By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
A 'grassroots coalition of concerned Bahamian citizens' is opposed to oil exploration drilling in Bahamian waters, and is strongly urging Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to cancel all existing licences and reject proposals for renewals.
Members of Our Islands, Our Future, wrote to Dr Minnis last week calling for him to immediately move to "cancel all existing licences, reject all proposed renewals and impose a permanent ban of fossil fuel exploration anywhere within the maritime borders of The Bahamas."
The group is concerned that in a matter of months, the Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) will move forward with plans to begin drilling offshore exploration wells.
According to reports in the Miami Herald in March, BPC said in a regulatory filing earlier this year it would drill its first exploration well, Perseverance #1, in deep offshore waters as early as April this year. The report noted the company indicated preliminary seismic testing showed the area has potential oil reserves of more than two billion barrels. The site of drilling is located just 150 miles off the coast of South Florida, the report stated, and that environmentalists say poses a slew of potential threats to marine systems from the Caribbean to Florida.
In May, Tribune Business reported the oil explorer recently said COVID-19 has forced it to further delay plans to drill its first exploratory well in Bahamian waters south-west of Andros until October 2020.
In a statement issued yesterday, Our Island, Our Future said The Bahamas has an opportunity to protect its waters and its number one industry - tourism.
"This unique island nation has one last chance to protect its vital economic, recreational, and ecological treasures from the devastating ravages associated with oil pollution before it is too late," the group said.
"This critical threat to our world-renowned oceans, reefs, and beaches cannot be exaggerated. All drilling is dirty drilling, and the threat of a major catastrophe looms always on the horizon. We therefore strongly advise the government to intervene to protect before it is too late."
It was noted this year marks the 10th anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Disaster into the Gulf of Mexico, the most catastrophic environmental disaster in the history of offshore drilling which dumped nearly 200 million gallons of oil, fouled 16,000 miles of coastline, along five US states, utterly destroyed fisheries and caused an unprecedented and as yet untold level of damage to marine life. On July 15, 2010, 87 days after the initial explosion was the day that the well head was finally capped.
The group noted Deepwater Horizon rig was also an exploratory well, just like the one that BPC is currently seeking to drill here in The Bahamas.
"Even a partial repeat of that disaster would devastate our tourism, commercial fishing, diving, and marine recreation industries. Tourism alone generates 50 percent of our gross domestic product, while these other industries are vital to the survival of many far-flung communities. Simply put, drilling threatens our very way of life," the group warned.
"It is clear that neither BPC nor the Bahamas government could fund the level of emergency response and cleanup needed to mitigate a large-scale disaster. The Deepwater Horizon spill cost $65 billion - more than five times the GDP of The Bahamas. Were such a disaster to take place it would pose an existential threat to The Bahamas, directly threatening the livelihoods of the vast majority of Bahamians.
"We cannot afford to put our nation's future at risk, nor risk its reputation being tied to a devastating accident. Again, we urge you to cancel existing licenses immediately, disregard any licence renewal proposals, and place a permanent ban on offshore oil drilling. Let us be known for pristine waterways and our commitment to a sustainable economy, not dirty fossil fuels or another uncontrolled and costly oil disaster."