By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMIANS will still get the opportunity to vote on whether or not the country will allow commercial oil drilling, according to Environment Minister Kenred Dorsett, who criticised the opposition for misleading the public yesterday.
Mr Dorsett maintained that the referendum will be dependent on whether or not exploratory drilling reveals commercially viable quantities of oil, adding that the government has “absolutely nothing” to hide.
Mr Dorsett added that licensure obtained by the Bahamas Petroleum Company was granted eight years ago and its terms are concrete, responding to controversy over comments made by BPC CEO Simon Potter earlier this month.
Mr Potter told potential investors in London that BPC’s financial deal with the government is “second to none” and “music to people’s ears” and also that the oil-drilling referendum discussion had been removed by the government.
However, Mr Potter has since told the government that he was misquoted, according to Mr Dorsett, who added that Mr Potter was entitled to his opinion.
“At the end of the day they’re in business,” Mr Dorsett said, “I would assume they’re in business for a profit. The reality is the royalty terms under his license were negotiated became a part of the contract eight years ago, and so that is the structure of our regulatory framework. When one is issued an exploratory licence, the royalty fees associated with production is determined at the time that you issue the license.”
Mr Dorsett added: “The terms are entrenched in contract, unless the agreement itself is terminated, but he’s got a legally binding contract.”
FNM deputy leader Loretta Butler-Turner accused the government of keeping Bahamians in the dark on oil exploration this week, demanding a response to the “deeply troubling” comments by Mr Potter.
She accused the PLP of again putting foreign interests first and the Bahamian people “dead last” in terms of providing information and consultation on potential oil resources owned by the Bahamas.
Underscoring the involvement of the former administration, Mr Dorsett charged that the royalties negotiated by the FNM in 1997 were significantly lower than the rates contracted in 2005 for BPC.
He added that former Environment Minister Earl Deveaux and Mrs Butler-Turner were both members of the former Cabinet with oversight of the BPC agreement and the oil exploration moratorium.
Mr Dorsett said the government had enlisted the support of the Commonwealth Secretariat for guidance on financial modelling and capacity development. There is currently only one officer dedicated to the Petroleum Unit, he said.
“This administration,” said Mr Dorsett, “fully intends to put in place the environmental regulatory framework to govern oil drilling within the borders of this country even prior to the construction of exploratory wells. This process has already begun and when the draft legislation is completed it will be shared with Bahamians for broad consultation and national discussion.
He added: “The Free National Movement with such misleading statements continue to show the Bahamian people that they are not a viable alternative to govern this country. This administration will not be distracted in our efforts to advance this country on behalf of the Bahamian people by the opposition which continues to try to cast aspersions on this administration to further their political agenda.