By NEIL HARTNELL and
Environmental activists spent the weekend celebrating after Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis revealed he is “totally against” oil drilling in Bahamian waters.
In a statement which will have shocked Bahamas Petroleum Company, Dr Minnis also suggested the government would have backed out of a controversial oil exploration deal if it could have.
“I am totally against oil drilling in our waters,” Dr Minnis told reporters on the sidelines of an event in Abaco on Friday. “Totally.”
Attorney Fred Smith, who represents Waterkeepers Bahamas and the Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay (Save The Bays), said: “To hear the Prime Minister, who is the heart of the Government, say he is against oil drilling is music to our ears. It is an exquisite expression of transparent fresh air.”
Bahamas Petroleum Company plans for the Stena IceMAX vessel to begin drilling Perseverance One in waters some 90 miles west of Andros, close to the maritime boundary with Cuba, on December 20.
The entire exercise is expected to take between 45-60 days, and the oil explorer has repeatedly argued that - as a non-production well - the chances of any oil spill will be minimal and it will be capped afterwards.
Last week, activists filed an application for judicial review to stop the oil exploration.
On Friday, when asked about concerns about the environmental impact of oil drilling, Dr Minnis said: “I have said that before and that has not changed. Unfortunately, we were saddled with an agreement that we met there. When we discussed it with the legal department, we were advised that the commitment and everything was signed and basically, we could not get out of it.
“But if we could’ve gotten out of it believe me, I am against totally drilling for oil in our waters.”
BPC’s oil exploration licences were given during the first Christie administration.
Several members of the Progressive Liberal Party have had ties to the company in the past.
Former Prime Minister Perry Christie once served as a consultant to BPC when in opposition. Davis & Co, the law firm of current PLP leader, Philip “Brave” Davis, acted as BPC’s attorneys when it first came to the Bahamas, although it no longer serves in this capacity. Mr Davis has recently indicated his backing for exploratory drilling.
PLP Senator Jobeth Coleby-Davis is also BPC’s in-house attorney.
In a statement over the weekend, PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell blasted Dr Minnis’ comments.
He said: “The Prime Minister has surely lost it. In distancing himself from oil drilling in the wake of the drilling rights issues to the Bahamas Petroleum Company - a licence he incidentally approved - his disingenuous words came off as the aimless ramblings of a nincompoop.
“The record clearly shows that upon coming to office in May, 2017, the FNM government knew that a condition of the licence was that BPC had to drill by April 2017 and the delay was caused by the insistence of the PLP that the environmental safeguards in new legislation be put in place. The incoming Minnis administration reviewed the matter and decided to proceed.
“The point is the country is a country of laws. His administration breached other duly signed contracts. So do not blame the PLP. He must accept responsibility for his own decisions.
“The comments in Abaco will show that in the face of this, the Prime Minister is clueless and once again proves that he doesn’t have the competence to address serious matters on behalf of the Bahamian people.
“The Prime Minister was pandering to his political quacks in the... Save the Bays organisation because he thinks that is the popular thing to do. In the process, the Prime Minister’s credibility and integrity continue to take a vicious public beating due to his habitual duplicity and hypocrisy on any number of national issues.”
For its part, Our Islands, Our Future praised Dr Minnis yesterday for his comments.
“We applaud and commend the Prime Minister for expressing his total opposition to oil drilling and recognising the grave economic and environmental risks that it poses for our country. We view his statements as a game-change for the public conversation on this most important issue.
“The Bahamas can be proud that it has an enlightened and progressive leader who not only understands what is in the best interest of his country, but also aspires to lead the region in navigating the path toward an end to dependence on fossil fuels. The coalition maintains that the BPC project is a terrible deal for the Bahamas and we hope that the Minnis administration will respect the rule of law with regard to the judicial review application that seeks to examine whether or not BPC’s licenses and approvals were granted properly.”