By CELESTE NIXON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE promised referendum on oil drilling is likely to be held some time next year, Prime Minister Perry Christie said yesterday.
Speaking outside Cabinet yesterday, Mr Christie said the government hopes to tackle the issue in 2013, but only if certain other factors fall into place.
“We are continuing to talk to those people who are applicants,” he said, “but as I have indicated before, oil drilling will only take place if the Bahamian people approve it through a referendum.
“It will happen next year some time, and if in fact we are ready, as I anticipate to be with the constitutional review at the end of March. By then (the oil drilling issue) will have the developments that will enable us to look at the question of a referendum.”
Shortly after the election, Environment Minister Ken Dorsett said certain “assessments” had to take place before oil exploration could begin.
According to the 2011 annual report by the Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC), the government is working towards establishing a regulatory framework for gas and oil extraction.
“Completion of the Bahamian elections ahead of their May 2012 deadline and timely progress towards implementation of revised laws, statutes and enabling regulations covering hydrocarbon exploration will promote accelerated activity,” he said. “The government is working to put the regulation in place to oversee oil and gas activity. We expect these regulations to be in place prior to our drilling.”
When the report was released in late May, Mr Dorsett said he could not comment on it.
“I haven’t read the report so I cannot comment on any statements they have made,” he said.
Tensions over oil drilling in the Bahamas increased in the weeks leading up to the election after it became known that Prime Minister Christie was a former consultant for the oil company’s Bahamian legal team.
Mr Christie said he was hired through the law firm of Davis & Co, which was headed by now Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis.
Graham Thompson & Co, of which former PLP attorney general Sean McWeeney is a partner, was also listed on the BPC’s website, as was PLP candidate for Killarney Jerome Gomez as its resident manager. However, Mr Gomez lost the Killarney constituency on May 7 to Dr. Hubert Minnis.
In late May, BPC said they are not discouraged by the fact that oil testing off the coast of Cuba yielded no results.
BPC chief operating officer Paul Gucwa said that while successful drilling in Cuba would have been encouraging, the results do not mean there is no oil in the Bahamas, nor does it affect oil drilling efforts.
Dr Gucwa added BPC intends to drill in a different geographical area and from their research it was not unexpected that the Scarabeo-9 drilling off the northwest of Cuba hit a dry well.
“A good result in their drilling would have been good news – however, from our research it was an expected result,” he said.