By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
ATTORNEY General Allyson Maynard-Gibson said the public will be “satisfied” with the planned regulatory framework to be put in place ahead of the start of exploratory oil drilling – as it “meets the highest environmental and regulatory standards”.
On Tuesday, Environment Minister Kenred Dorsett told Tribune Business that draft legislation could be before Cabinet within 30 days.
He confirmed that a preliminary draft was received from the Attorney General’s Office, which his ministry “is in the process of vetting and making some changes to”.
Speaking Wednesday, Mrs Maynard-Gibson said the framework is based on international standards and will be made public once the government is done revising it.
“The regulatory regime that we will be promulgating is one that has been bench-marked,” she said. “It is something that the public will be satisfied with, it meets the highest environmental and regulatory standards. The prime minister made it very clear that we will not compromise the gift that God gave us which is a pristine environment.
“Of course, any development has some impact on the environment and we have to be able to, through bench-marking other jurisdictions, ensure that any risk is an acceptable risk and it is minimised.
“Like I said, the highest regulatory standards – according to internationally accepted norms – will be in place in the Bahamas.”
As the draft legislation moves through the Ministry of the Environment, on its way to Cabinet, Mrs Maynard-Gibson said the role of her office will be provide legal guidance.
“We will give legal advice,” she said. “His ministry is responsible for consulting widely and we bring any assistance legally that we can to the table and he will, at the end of the day, having bench-marked what other jurisdictions do, advise Cabinet and in turn the media will be advised and the public will be advised.”
Mr Dorsett announced last month the government has determined that “we need to find out first, through exploration drilling, whether we do indeed have oil in commercially viable quantities”.
His comments sparked criticism from the FNM and the public, and the government was accused of going back on firm promises.
Mr Dorsett had previously assured the public that no form of drilling would take place before a referendum; and last September, Prime Minister Perry Christie said: “We are continuing to talk to those people who are applicants, but as I have indicated before, oil drilling will only take place if the Bahamian people approve it through a referendum.”
Holding a referendum before allowing any form of drilling was one of the PLP’s key campaign promises before coming to office.
The opposition has also vowed to do everything in its power to block exploratory oil drilling in the Bahamas before comprehensive regulations are put in place.
Party chairman Darron Cash said: “The FNM will use every means at its disposal to ensure that the first drill does not penetrate the sea bed until the appropriate legislative and regulatory frameworks are in place.”
Former State Minister of Environment Phenton Neymour said that before any drilling takes place “we have to outline the environmental side of exploration. What happens if there is exploratory drilling? What happens if there is a leak,” he asked.
“We have challenges today retaining the oil releases from BEC at Clifton Pier. So imagine when they begin to drill in open waters – what if an accident happens? What do we do to protect the environment in that regard?”