By Leandra Rolle
MORE than a dozen US Congress members have voiced opposition to offshore drilling in Bahamian waters, and have asked the US State Department to urge the Bahamian government to stop plans for offshore drilling in the country.
The 16 US Congressmen and women noted their reservations about the planned drilling by Bahamas Petroleum Company in a letter dated April 17, sent to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Charge d’Affaires Stephanie Bowers.
“The United States cannot afford another Deepwater Horizon disaster,” the letter read. “This bipartisan group of members respects the sovereignty of the Bahamas, but a spill in Bahamian waters could bring ruin to both of our countries’ shorelines.
“Ten years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, we call on Secretary Pompeo to urge the Bahamian government to reconsider its efforts to green-light dirty offshore oil drilling in a region so full of magnificent ecosystems and so dependent on international tourism.”
The letter added that oil spills do not respect state or national boundaries.
“Since the exploratory drilling proposed for next month is only 150 miles from Florida’s coast, and another licence area is only 50 miles from Miami oil slicks from BPC’s drilling activities could affect any Bahamian island as well as the East Coast of the United States. Oil is toxic to marine life and a spill in Bahamian waters could quickly damage vibrant corals, kill off seagrass beds and coat important mangrove ecosystems, which are important carbon sinks.”
The letter says the Congressmen and women hope these concerns are conveyed to the Bahamian government.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was caused by an April 20, 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig—located in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana.
It is the largest oil spill in history.
Adding their support to the US officials’ stance on the matter, local activists also called on government officials “to heed” concerns by the American legislators.
In a press statement released yesterday, Waterkeeper Bahamas executive director, Rashema Ingraham said: “The United States is by far the most important trading partner and strategic ally for the Bahamas, and it would be highly irresponsible for our government to ignore their valid concerns.”
Noting the proposal as a “critical threat” to the country’s marine environment, she said the situation could also prove potentially catastrophic for foreign relations with the US.
“Oil drilling would endanger the entire east coast of the United States, a nation still feeling the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster a decade ago. Our tourism industry is currently being held hostage by the global COVID-19 pandemic and thousands of Bahamians are out of work,” she continued.
“We must do all we can to preserve our good relationship with the United States as the Bahamas seeks to recover from the grave economic fallout. Now is not the time to anger our closest friends.”
Meanwhile, Save The Bays chairman Joseph Darville added: “Congress members are absolutely justified in heeding the lessons of history. Even under the best possible conditions, oil drilling is extremely hazardous; whereas in the Bahamas, we do not have an adequate regulatory regime to govern this industry, nor the resources to mitigate a massive spill.”
He also called on the government to remember the assistance received by the US government in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
“It is our turn to be good neighbours and reciprocate that generosity of spirit,” he added.
Echoing similar sentiments was executive director of the Bahamas Reef Environment and Educational Foundation, Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, who noted that the country cannot afford another “massive setback”, having gone through Hurricane Dorian last September and now experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a country dependent on tourism and fisheries, the Bahamas cannot the afford the risk to our country that oil drilling in our waters would pose,” she said.
BPC, which has spent more than a decade on its exploration project, is aiming to drill its first exploratory well by October in waters some 100 miles south-west of Andros, and close to the maritime boundary with Cuba.
The Minnis administration paved the way for the explorer to proceed by recently approving its environmental authorisation.
Noting that the the country is at “a crossroads” over the issue, Environment and Housing Minister Romauld Ferreria told Tribune Business last month that the country had reached the stage where it “needs to know” if BPC’s decade-plus exploration work will translate into the discovery of commercial oil fields below the nation’s seabed.
“We are essentially tourism, financial services and fisheries,” he said.
“The country needs another industry. We have to make a decision. Are we going to find out if it exists in commercial quantities? The real fundamental issue at play here is: Do we have oil? That is the $1bn question everyone wants answered. We have to drill a well to make a final determination.”