By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Oban Energies “remains confident” in the environmental soundness of its $5.5bn oil storage/refinery project despite warnings it would be “insane” to proceed given the post-Dorian spill.
Fred Smith QC, the Callenders & Co attorney and partner, yesterday urged the government not to continue negotiations with the developers after the devastation inflicted by the category five storm at South Riding Point highlighted the potential dangers of another oil-related facility in east Grand Bahama.
Speaking out after the near-environmental disaster at that storage and transhipment facility, Mr Smith told Tribune Business: “We cannot have an Oban operating here. We cannot have an oil refinery operating here.
“It’s insane to keep thinking about this. Given what has happened at South Riding Point it would be insane of the government to continue discussions with Oban. I urge them not to. The only thing that saved a major oil-related catastrophe on the south-west coast is that the wind seemed to be blowing it north-west coming out of the south-east.”
Equinor, South Riding Point’s owner, has been forced to mobilise clean-up teams after Hurricane Dorian tore the roofs off several oil storage tanks and scattered an unknown quantity of the product across nearby land. To-date, it appears that the oil which leaked has not polluted the nearby sea and shoreline, although that has yet to be confirmed.
An Oban consultant yesterday told Tribune Business that the group had “reached out” to Equinor to offer its help in addressing the oil spill, and expressed confidence in the sustainability and “environmental friendliness” of its own proposal which is also focused in east Grand Bahama in an area closed to South Riding Point.
“Oban extends its condolences to the people of The Bahamas on the trail of destruction left by Hurricane Dorian,” the consultant said. “Oban’s focus, at this time, is on the well-being of residents of Abaco and Grand Bahama on particular.
“Oban is quite aware of reports related to that oil spill. Without all the facts Oban will not give comment on the particulars of the oil spill, but has reached out to Equinor officials, and has every confidence that Equinor has the matter under control. Every indication and assessment suggests there is no cause for alarm.”
Oban Energies, if it sticks to its original proposal, is planning to do much more than South Riding Point and Grand Bahama’s other oil storage facility, BORCO, which was said to have suffered only minor damage and no leak of product from Dorian based on initial inspections.
For it is proposing to develop an oil refining component as well as oil storage facilities. The Government has been seeking to renegotiate its Heads of Agreement with Oban Energies via a Cabinet committee headed by Dion Foulkes, minister of labour, after the developer and its project were embroiled in controversy in early 2018.
Peter Krieger and Satpal Dhunna, Oban Energies’ non-executive chairman and president, respectively, at the Heads of Agreement signing were both subsequently replaced after Tribune Business revealed questions about the backgrounds and experience of several members of the developer’s team.
However, the Oban consultant said yesterday: “Oban understands the challenges and the pressure of trying to introduce a similar entity [to South Riding Point and BORCO], but sooner rather than later, as negotiations continue between the Government and Oban, the public and the world will come to know that oil storage facilities and top-off oil facilities are improving on addressing environmental issues.
“Oban remains confident in our environmentally friendly and sustainable development. It will no doubt help the Grand Bahama economy, and Oban is looking forward to being part of Grand Bahama’s recovery.”
Mr Smith, meanwhile, argued that Hurricane Dorian represented “a paradigm shift” for the Bahamian economy and the country’s future, as it highlighted this nation’s total exposure and vulnerability to climate change.
“This catastrophe has demonstrated that it cannot be business as usual in The Bahamas or any other small island developing state (SID),” he told Tribune Business. “Dorian should be a wake-up call to the world about rising sea levels and global warming.
“This should propel our government to embrace as low a carbon footprint in The Bahamas as possible. We need revisions to our building codes so that all future buildings are built with cisterns, solar panels and greater structural integrity.”
And Mr Smith added: “Dorian is a paradigm shift for our economy and the future of The Bahamas. We need the best of the PLP and the FNM to collaborate. Our country is too small for this continual tribal warfare. We need to take advantage of all our human resources given the effect on quality of life issues in The Bahamas.
“I’ve driven around Freeport and looked at the devastation first hand. We have never experienced such a high level of ocean incursion before. Although we have never had six foot flooding in the downtown district, I build the [Callender’s] office six feet up out of an abundance of caution.”
However, the law firm’s generators and AC system was not built so high, and their immersion in water has prevented the law firm from resuming operations. “Most businesses downtown and going to the harbour,” Mr Smith said, “because the hurricane came from the north-west have been completely destroyed.
“You can’t really recover from damage from salt water flooding. Buildings need to be gutted and rebuilt.”