By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Activists yesterday alleged Bahamas Petroleum Company's (BPC) environmental impact studies "fall far short" of what is required by this nation's laws and could facilitate breaches of international treaties.
Waterkeepers Bahamas and the Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay, in launching their bid to obtain permission to bring Judicial Review proceedings to halt oil drilling in Bahamian waters, claimed that plans outlined in BPC's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) could breach the so-called MARPOL convention that regulates pollution by shipping.
Drawing on an EIA review they commissioned, the two groups alleged that plans to discharge so-called "black water" and crushed food waste from the Stena IceMAX drill ship could violate MARPOL's prohibition on vessels disposing of waste less than three nautical miles "from the nearest land".
With MARPOL defining "the nearest land" as the "baseline from which" a country's territorial sea is measured, the activists drew on The Bahamas' Archipelagic Waters and Maritime Jurisdiction Act that determines this nation's "baseline" as extending 12 miles from the nearest land - "not the coastline".
As a result, they are alleging that the site of BPC's Perseverance Once well "is right on the edge of the Bahamian archipelagic waters", thus putting it within the limits where MARPOL permits the discharge of ships' waste.
"The decisions to approve the EIA and grant Environmental Authorisation are unlawful because the BPC EIA contains the express intention to dump treated sewage at the rate of an estimated 6,000 gallons (22,700 litres) per day and comminuted food waste at the rate of 900 pounds (400 kg) per day in or within nautical miles of Bahamian archipelagic waters, in breach of MARPOL and Bahamian law," the Judicial Review alleges.
"If the project goes ahead, BPC and Stena will be in almost immediate and daily breach of MARPOL, and will be committing daily offences under Bahamian law. The decisions to approve the BPC EIA and to grant Environmental Authorisation in respect thereof for this reason alone were unlawful."
BPC's attorneys, in a letter to Fred Smith QC, the Callenders & Co attorney and partner who represents the activists in their Judicial Review bid to halt the company's exploratory drilling plans, dismissed attacks on the EIA as being of no merit.
"You have made some scattershot criticisms of the EIA, but they are completely unfounded," Leif Farquharson, a Graham, Thompson & Company attorney and partner, wrote. "The EIA was produced by leading independent experts based on industry best practice. It took two years to produce at the cost of millions of dollars.
"We also note your suggestion that the Environmental Authorisation process should be re-opened in light of the change of drill ship. That is plainly wrong. The project remains that for which the Environmental Authorisation was granted on February 25, 2020."
Judicial Review actions focus on whether governments, statutory agencies and public bodies have failed to follow the legal processes for issuing permits and approvals, and if their decision-making has been rationale.
Mr Smith and his clients are seeking to persuade the Supreme Court, if they get leave to bring Judicial Review proceedings, to overturn the Environmental Authorisation and associated approvals granted to BPC as well as its various licence extensions.
They are also questioning whether BPC's Perseverance One well has obtained the necessary certificate of environmental clearance under the new Environmental Planning and Protection Act, while also arguing that approvals are required under the Planning and Subdivision Act and Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of The Bahamas Act as excavation is involved in drilling the well.
And, as Mr Farquharson referred to, the Coalition and Waterkeepers are alleging that the switch to a new drill ship in the form of the Stena IceMAX should have required changes to the Environmental Authorisation that sparked a further round of consultation on BPC's project.
"A vast quantity of the paper in the 307-page EIA, and 2,655 page EMP, relates to Seadrill’s ship, West Saturn, and its specifications, and Seadrill’s various plans and procedures, policies etc. There are 57 references to Seadrill in the EMP and 26 references to West Saturn. This does not include the large quantity of Seadrill’s own documents that are appended to the EMP," the Judicial Review alleged.
"If this material was necessary to include in the EIA and EMP, it must be necessary to include the same information and documentation for the new contractor, Stena, and drill ship IceMax.
"A new or amended EIA was therefore required as was the mandatory Environmental Authorisation application. Neither of these documents have been confirmed to exist let alone be published or consulted upon, as are required at common law and by the Petroleum Offshore Regulations and the new EIA regulations, which have applied to the project since September 2020."