By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE massive oil spill in Grand Bahama caused by Hurricane Dorian should be incentive enough for the government to reject the controversial Oban refinery proposal, an environmental watchdog has asserted.
Save The Bays (STB), in a pamphlet on the incident, said the 100,000 barrels of oil that spilled from the Equinor South Riding Point facility should ideally lead to a “definitive rejection of the notorious” Oban Energies proposition.
STB’s Legal Director Fred Smith, QC, said the Minnis administration would be “insane” to continue “courting another dangerous and reckless facility” because if agreed to, a “disaster on the scale of South Riding Point or even greater is not a question of if, only a question of when.”
“The situation in Freeport today, where the coastline is polluted with heavy, dirty fuel oil, the water table is contaminated and residents have been told they must avoid the water supply, should serve as a dire warning,” he said. “The time has come to close the door on this potentially disastrous flirtation with the Oban proposal.”
He added: “The government will have to ensure Equinor urgently cleans up the South Riding Point and High Rock area. They would be insane to create an even larger threat to the pristine and ecologically invaluable eastern end of the island.”
The government and Oban are renegotiating extensive changes to a heads of agreement with Oban Energies for a $5.5 billion oil refinery and storage facility in East Grand Bahama. The government initially signed the HoA in February 2018, but after it became a lightning rod for public controversy decided to review it.
Last week, Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira said some 119,000 barrels of oil – more than five million gallons – were spilled at the Equinor facility during the passage of Hurricane Dorian.
The Norwegian oil terminal had 1.8 million barrels of crude oil stored there prior to the storm. The terminal has a capacity of 6.75 million barrels.
The dome-shaped lids of two storage tanks – numbers six and ten – at the facility were blown off, and oil was dispersed in the area as Hurricane Dorian unleashed 185mph winds and pummeled Grand Bahama for about 40 hours.
To date, over 35,000 barrels of oil have been recovered from the East Grand Bahama site. Speaking in the House of Assembly, Mr Ferreira said four thousand acres of forest have been surveyed and 175 acres have been confirmed as affected in some way by crude oil.
Meanwhile, STB and other environment watchdog groups like Waterkeepers Bahamas and Waterkeeper Alliance said the oil spill has contaminated water in critical wetland habitats, including an area more than one mile away from the spill.
The groups noted in a joint statement that they tested water samples at five locations near the Equinor spill site and sent 54 individual water samples to an environmental chemist to a certified water testing lab in Wilmington, NC.
The water samples analysis displayed distinct petroleum components.
Thus, Mr Smith asserted in the STB pamphlet that oil refineries are, and always have been a “lose-lose scenario for Bahamians”, as they are “bastions of an outdated and defunct form of energy production” that produce “very few jobs for locals”.
Conversely, Mr Smith said all of the profits from such operations ultimately end up “being shipped overseas into the bank accounts of foreign owners.”
“It is, and has always been a lose-lose scenario for Bahamians and the time has come to put an end to it. The government must tell Oban to take a hike,” he said. “Climate change means that storms will only get stronger and more frequent; a disaster on the scale of South Riding Point or even greater is not a question of if, only a question of when.”
In view of the Equinor oil spill, STB Chairman Joe Darville asserted that any talk of the government entertaining the proposed Oban oil refinery project would be adverse to the best interests of east Grand Bahama.
“This is a warning that we need to permanently shelve this foolish, asinine, ignorant proposal for good,” Mr Darville said. “It would be unconscionable for the government to move forward with this proposal now.”