By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
Bahamas National Trust is “greatly concerned” about the location of the proposed $5.5 billion Oban Energies oil refinery and storage facility in Grand Bahama, saying it cannot “envisage any scenario” where it could support the controversial project.
The non-governmental organisation said it takes its responsibilities as an advisor to government and manager of the national park systems “very seriously,” adding the proposed location of the refinery would place it in close proximity to three national parks.
In a press release issued yesterday, BNT said while it was aware of the need to create jobs, it has been documented that oil refineries pose a high risk of air, aquatic and soil pollution.
The organisation also suggested it has been kept in the dark about the deal and has formally requested an opportunity to review the full Heads of Agreement signed by Oban Energies last month and also asked the government make public the proposed site of Oban’s facility and all the information it now has on the company.
BNT also asked for the opportunity to “weigh in” on the project’s environmental impact assessment prior to its completion, saying up to now, it has only been receiving information from press reports.
However, BNT said notwithstanding the results of the EIA, the group does not see how it can support the project given the associated environmental risks.
“The Bahamas National Trust has requested information from the government of the Bahamas regarding the oil refinery and storage facility in Grand Bahama, known as the Oban Project,” BNT noted.
“BNT is greatly concerned with regards to the location of the facility, which if the reports in the press are correct, would place the refinery in close proximity to three national parks – The Lucayan National Park, the East Grand Bahama National Park, and the North Shore - The Gap National Park. The BNT has asked the government to provide the exact location of the site and to see the full Heads of Agreement. We have also asked for the opportunity to weigh in on the environmental impact assessment before completion.
“BNT wishes to state very clearly however, that notwithstanding the results of the EIA, even if there are local project impacts that the Bahamas Environment and Science and Technology Commission and the government might deem acceptable if mitigated, we cannot envisage any scenario where BNT could support this project. Whatever the specific location, this mammoth oil refinery and the industrial project will be located somewhere between three ecologically important national parks.
“Indeed, the Oban Energies website says that the facility would be ‘located off the southern tip of Grand Bahama Island, 35 miles east of Freeport’ which would place the facility extremely close to the East Grand Bahama National Park,” the BNT said.
When contacted for comment yesterday, Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira said the management and evaluation of all EIAs are vested in the BEST Commission, and as such, out of his purview.
Oversight of the BEST Commission was previously transferred to Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.
The government has been attacked for a clause in the Oban Heads of Agreement which prohibits the project’s termination whatever an EIA concludes.
However, the agreement empowers the minister responsible for the environment to force the discontinuation of any “operation or equipment” from the project that causes an environmental infraction.
BNT wrote yesterday: “(We are) sensitive to the need to create jobs, especially considering Grand Bahama’s depressed economy. It is absolutely crucial however, that this is not at the expense of the island’s, and by extension, the country’s, most important asset, the natural environment.
“BNT is hopeful therefore that if the assessed impact of this project is determined to be unacceptable, that the government does have an escape clause to allow us to protect the environment, contrary to what has been reported in the press.
“BNT wishes also to note that this facility advances the expansion of fossil fuels, one of the acknowledged greatest contributors to climate change.”
The statement added: “The extremely high risk that oil refineries in particular present in terms of air, aquatic, and soil pollution and their impact on flora, fauna, sea life, and local communities is extremely widely documented.
“Indeed, it is primarily environmental and safety concerns that has meant that no new refineries have been built in the United States since the 1970s, albeit existing refineries have been expanded.”
In addition to noting the fact the project would be built in an area highly susceptible to hurricanes, the BNT highlighted the importance of the three parks which would be near the refinery.
Speaking specifically to the East Grand Bahama National Park, BNT said: “(This site) is located in the area south of Sweeting’s Cay, a series of tidal creeks (that) provide prime flats fishing habitats that support the local communities in east Grand Bahama.”
Additionally, BNT said the extensive mangrove forests also act as corridors to the offshore reef system that are included in the proposed national park for East Grand Bahama.
The group also noted that the explored blue hole systems on Sweeting’s Cay are connected to undisturbed underground karst systems that are supported as national parks to benefit the local economy of Sweeting’s Cay.
Of the Lucayan National Park, which BNT recognised as the most highly visited national park in the country, the group said: “(This park) protects one of the longest charted underwater cave systems in the world; a unique system of elevated walkways through the last intact mangrove wetland on the southern shore of Grand Bahama, a magnificently wide unspoiled beach showcasing the tallest sand dunes on the island and a wealth of flora and fauna.
“This park exhibits all the Bahamian vegetative zones and is an amazing outdoor classroom for Bahamian students.”
Then lastly, of the North Shore – The Gap National Park, the BNT said: “The coastal area on the north shore consists of mangrove wetlands, tidal creeks, sand and mud flats, beach strand and rocky shores.”
BNT said an extensive area of blue holes and an unexplored karst cave system also exists in the coastal area northeast of Dover Sound.
In addition to these factors, BNT said further inland, there are pine woodlands where many bird species live.
In a paid advertisement published in The Tribune last week, Oban’s President Satpal Dhunna advised Bahamians not to pay attention to the “noise in the market” but to be aware of the positive things the project will bring to Grand Bahama, such as jobs and an expected economic boost.