By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
ENVIRONMENT activists are angry at Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira, who they say told them last year there was no chance the Minnis administration would move forward with offshore oil drilling.
The promise, given during a closed-door meeting with advocates last May, has attracted new attention in the wake of the government’s recent decision to approve several new exploration licences for Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC).
For his part, Mr Ferreira yesterday said his comments last year were in line with the government’s decision not to issue any additional exploration licences.
He told The Tribune all current arrangements with BPC are in line with legacy agreements made between the petroleum company and the former Christie administration.
“What I said was said in relation to new licences to ventures unrelated to (BPC),” he said.
Several environmentalists are now calling on Mr Ferreira to address why he misled them.
According to the activists, Mr Ferreira told them the Minnis administration was not prepared to move forward with offshore oil drilling at all and that Cabinet had agreed it was not a position the government would move forward with.
ReEarth President Sam Duncombe said she was shocked to learn of the government’s shift, insisting the “silence” by Mr Ferreira over the role he played in conveying a false position speaks volumes about the Minnis administration.
“Absolutely,” she said when asked if the meeting had taken place. “Yes, it did. So many of us were there,” she added.
“There (were) at least 15 to 20 people in the room. When I asked him directly about the pending leases, he said he was not at liberty to discuss the leases. I asked what is the point of this announcement if those leases are still on the table? He regurgitated the mantra about he’s not able to discuss.”
She continued: “The other thing that I found odd was that no press was there — no public announcement — one would think given all their screw-ups (at that time) they’d want a positive story.”
Mrs Duncombe questioned if Mr Ferreira was used as a ploy to pacify environmentalists while the government orchestrated something else behind the scenes.
She insisted that answers needed to be given and done so publicly. “Oil exploration carries huge environmental costs. Seismic testing can injure and kill whales, dolphins, turtles, fish and corals. Drilling dumps drilling mud and other harmful chemicals into the ocean and can smother reefs,” Mrs Duncombe contended.
“This level of hypocrisy seems to be the mainstay of this government,” she added, referring to Mr Ferreira’s work in Marathon before the 2017 general election.
Before being elected to Parliament, Mr Ferreira gained attention as a voice for Marathon residents who had been adversely affected by the 2015 Rubis gas leak.
“…This is such a gross departure of the things he said before he got sucked into this party line mess,” Mrs Duncombe asserted.
Last week, in response to criticism over the government’s decision to issue new licences to BPC, Mr Ferreira said the government was compelled to act in a legally responsible way.
Responding directly to that comment, Save the Bays Chairman Joe Darville in an interview with The Tribune accused Mr Ferreira of not being “truthful.”
“It’s a crying shame that we’ve come to this. The same man that sat in front of us and said this thing would not come to be, he’s now out here presenting the government’s legal responsibility?
“Why speak to us at all? Why go that route to sell us the idea that something good could come out of this, just to come back and run this down our throats?” Mr Darville asked.
Recalling the meeting from last year, he added: “It was a tremendous amount of joy and celebration because we thought finally, a win for this country. We were asked our thoughts and everyone went into detail on why they had issues.
“Mr Ferreira opened his mouth and told us… he ended our worries.”
“Now, the same man? Him? He didn’t even come back to us you know. We heard the news from the petroleum company. That’s who announced that the Bahamas…an entire independent nation was going about oil exploration, a company that we thought we had heard the last from,” Mr Darville said.
“A crying shame if there has ever been one.”
According to the information received by The Tribune, the meeting between Mr Ferreira and the group of environmentalists took place on Thursday, May 17, 2018 at 2pm at the Ministry of Housing and Environment’s Charlotte Street office.
Environmentalists were not told of the meeting’s purpose.
They were only told of its time and location, and given three business days to confirm their attendance.
A third environmentalist laughed when contacted by The Tribune for comment, calling the situation “evidence this government has no idea what they are doing.”
Asking not to be named, the environmentalist said The Bahamas was in need of “a better class of politician.”
“This is just the latest in a line of matters where these politicians say one thing and do the complete opposite,” the activist said.