By NATARIO McKENZIE Tribune Business reporter nmckenzie@tribunemedia.net OIL exploration is not a matter on which the Bahamas should be rushed or pressured, environment minister Earl Deveaux said yesterday. Speaking out on the hotly-debated issue, Mr Deveaux said: "I think part of the driving momentum is that Cuba is drilling. We are concerned about their drilling, and the US is concerned about their drilling. People who have leases here believe that because Cuba has found oil, it is believed that oil can be found in the Bahamas near there, so they need to schedule their activity while the opportunity is there otherwise there is a long delay. "It is not a matter on which the Bahamas should be rushed or pressured. It requires concise and highly-trained procedures to be developed. It's not my personal view; it's just something that has enormous long-range implications and something that has to be carefully managed." Mr Deveaux said the premise that someone could just come in and start drilling a hole without meeting the minimum regulatory and environmental standards was wrong. "People can't just come here and start digging a hole," Mr Deveaux said. "You have to have regulatory oversight for how you come in, regulatory oversight for how you engage, and regulatory oversight for how you commission, as well as an arrangement as it relates to the royalties, the proceeds, the commercial activities and the training for your own people. It's not a matter that the Bahamas should enter into lightly. "Our economy is based on tourism. We have significant commercial fishing here and the environment defines our way of life. Oil is something that produces the prospect of immediate wealth, but it is a finite resource where, if you don't do it to increase your store of wealth, once it runs out you have more problems than you started out with." Mr Deveaux yesterday announced the establishment of a new national park for Abaco, the expansion of the Conception Island National Park and the expansion of the West Side National Park. He said: "By these three Acts we have expanded the National Parks system by just over 875,000 acres, and it's going to gain the Government $3 per year, that's what we are giving them to the Bahamas National Trust for, a dollar per year. "We have also given the BNT $1 million in endowment over the last three budgets. We hope that continues. It is based on resources; it is not a fixed sum that is likely to go upon and through that endowment. The BNT also raises significant sums of money to provide for permanent and sustained management of the parks." Mr Deveaux said the West Side National Park plays a vital role in sustaining the nation's local and commercial fisheries market.


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