PETRO DRILLING PROTEST

Prime Minister of The Bahamas Hubert Minnis addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., Sept. 27, 2019.
REUTERS / Lucas Jackson, File

Encouraged by Guyana’s massive oil shout in the past five years, Caribbean Community countries from Grenada to Barbados to Jamaica, among others, have all stepped up plans for oil and gas exploration but if environmentalists and The Bahamas’s cabinet have their way, a campaign to commence offshore drilling will be scrubbed immediately.

Prime Minister Hubert Innis, already under pressure to keep the tourism dependent economy afloat amidst the coronavirus pandemic lock down, is leading a rising tide of local groups, high officials and environmentalists who have been railing against plans by The Bahamian Petroleum Corporation to begin a drilling campaign in waters between Florida and The Bahamas in the coming weeks. They are doing so albeit unsuccessfully since it has become clear in recent days that the drillship will begin work in the coming days regardless.

The Stenna IceMax drillship arrived in local waters this week and is preparing to drill the corporation’s first well as fears that an accidental oil spill could wreck the marine aspects of its tourism industry, crippling scuba diving, sailing, snorkeling and sports fishing among other money makers grow.

The arrival of the ship and stepped up preparations for drilling are taking place despite a plea by an influential group of bipartisan American lawmakers who had pleaded with the Trump Administration earlier this year to take steps to stop the drilling, about 150 miles off Florida’s south coast. Joining them are a slew of local environmental groups and cabinet ministers led by PM Minnis. They are absolutely against any oil and gas exploration in Bahamian waters, period.

“I am totally against” any drilling, Minnis told reporters in the past week. Unfortunately, we were saddled with an agreement that we met there. When we discussed it with the legal department, we were advised that the commitment and everything was signed and basically we could not get out of it. But if we could’ve gotten out of it, believe me, I am totally against drilling for oil in our waters.”

In stark contrast, Shell Oil of the United Kingdom is preparing to return to Jamaica as the local petroleum company is moving to encourage some of the world’s supermajors to begin drilling off the island’s south coast in the coming months.

In Grenada, the administration of Prime Minister Keith Mitchell has not said much about plans to drill in waters near oil and gas-rich Trinidad and Tobago since a Russian company had said that it had found indications of commercial oil and gas more than two years ago even as cabinet said it is determined to begin an exploration campaign. Nearby Barbados has also dished out a few exploration licenses, well aware like Grenada, that it is just a few dozen miles from Trinidad.

But the two gems of the 15-nation grouping remain Guyana and neighboring Suriname. Nearly 25 mega wells gushing with oil and lush with gas have been found in a basin area almost on the line of the maritime border between the two even as Exxon, Apache Oil, Total and Petronas companies are fixing to drill more than half a dozen next year.

As the Stenna Ice Max gears up, drilling will take place offshore Andros Island, Attorney General Carl Bethel said authorities can’t at all do anything to stop the drilling as not a single local law or regulation has been breached. The influential Bahamian National Trust (BNT) and the Waterkeepers Directorate said they beg to disagree.

“It’s not just Bahamians, but people in Florida are concerned about the potential impact of an accident or an incident or a continuous impact of oil,” BNT Director Eric Carey told the Tribune Newspaper.

“You know, I don’t care how clean it is, it’s oil. You’re pulling it out of the ocean. You’re going to have spills that are going to end up either on the seafloor or being carried into systems. If you have tropical storms or other systems, there’s the potential for oil that is settled in one place to be moved to a next,” Carey said as protests continued.

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