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Fisherman: 'Risk Outweighs Rewards' Over Oil Exploration

* NFA director fears for 'critical dive and trap area'

* Tells Gov't to 'pause' and not feel COVID pressure

* Activists say petition closing on 17,000 signatures

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A prominent fisherman yesterday voiced his opposition to oil exploration near "some of the most critical dive and trap areas on the Bahama Bank", adding: "The risks far outweigh the rewards."

Paul Mailis, director of the National Fisheries Association of The Bahamas, told Tribune Business that even a small oil spill from the well that Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) is aiming to spud before Christmas 2020 could threaten the investment made by fishermen in "tens of thousands" of lobster condos and traps laid in the area.

While acknowledging that "opinion varies" among fishermen depending on where they live, as BPC's plans were "out of sight, out of mind" for some, Mr Mailis urged the Government to impose a "pause" on all BPC's activities and not feel pressured to go head because of the economic and fiscal devastation caused by COVID-19.

"We've discussed these concerns about oil drilling," he said of the fisheries sector, "because it's taking place in some of the most critical and important dive and trap areas on the Bahama Bank.

"We feel it's something we're not prepared for. Fishermen now have very real and tangible investments out there, the lobster traps and condos. There's tens of thousands of them there. There's a lot of fishermen invested there, and the threat to the reef and lobster out there is tremendous even from a small spill. We're looking at this with great concern."

BPC and its chief executive, Simon Potter, have repeatedly pointed out that their plans for a first exploratory well in Bahamian waters, named Perseverance One, comply with all Bahamian and international regulatory standards and best practices.

Romauld Ferreira, minister of the environment and housing, confirmed last week that the Environmental Authorisation and all such necessary approvals have been granted to BPC, leaving it clear to proceed, with the Minnis administration repeatedly insisting it is merely honouring an obligation made by its predecessors.

And BPC has also argued that the well will not be seeking to extract commercial quantities of oil but merely confirm the presence of hydrocarbons beneath the sea bed, thereby minimising the possibility of any spill or pollution.

However, Mr Mailis questioned whether either of the Government and BPC "have a plan" to address such an incident. "If several thousand traps are covered in oil, who's going to pay for that and cover the environmental damage from that?" he asked.

"That's going to impact fishermen for decades if it does happen. What's the plan? I've not seen anything from the Government. Does the company have a plan? The fishermen feel this has to be done very cautiously.

"I personally am against the oil drilling because the profits will only go to a small amount of people. The majority will not profit. How much is the Public Treasury going to benefit? The risks far outweigh the rewards. We have a thriving fisheries industry in this country and need to protect it."

Warning that one oil spill could cost The Bahamas its reputation as a tourism destination, Mr Mailis argued that the information made available to the Bahamian public on BPC's project is lacking - even though both the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for the project have been placed on the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection's website.

"We need to put a pause on this, and not force it through because of desperate COVID-19 times and because the Government needs money," Mr Mailis added. "This is a far more impactful situation than we're prepared to deal with in these depressed times. We need to be careful, very careful."

He was backed by Prescott Smith, the Andros-based president of The Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association (BFFIA), who argued that “oil drilling serves us no benefit” while endangering the environment and failing to empower Bahamians.

BPC's Mr Potter, in an interview with Tribune Business published yesterday, urged environmental activists to give "a fair representation of the facts" surrounding the company's project. While saying he welcomed a "robust conversation" on the issues, he accused some of seeking to "misconstrue or misrepresent" facts about it and oil exploration as a whole.

Mr Potter said any debate also needed to take into account The Bahamas' present COVID-19 economic situation, and the "economic possibilities this could open up" if commercial quantities of extractable oil were found in BPC's licence zones.

He confirmed, though, that any oil recovered would be sold for processing outside The Bahamas, with the main benefits being royalties earnings for The Bahamas' sovereign wealth fund as well as the jobs, education and training that BPC has committed to provide under its licence.

However, Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) executive director, who is spearheading the Our Islands, Our Future campaign against BPC's ambitions with Waterkeepers Bahamas, also echoed Mr Mailis' concerns about the proximity of the drilling site to the Great Bahama Bank's "important fishing grounds" and the Cay Sal Marine Protected Area (MPA).

"Of course the drill site is right next to the Great Bahama Bank, one of our most important fishing grounds, and the leases overlap with existing marine protected areas that are essential for our fishing industry," she said, adding that the Our Islands, Our Future petition "has now exceeded the target of 15,000 signatures. We're up to 17,000 now and rapidly increasing".

Comments

birdiestrachan 1 month ago

upside-down environment minister. proud to get rid of plastic bags. it harms the fish he said. But it is all right to drill for oil. and it is allright for Cruise ships anchors to drag on the sea bed.

He capatalise on the service station oil leak. but he has done a thousand times worse.

plastic bags was easy. it affected the poor people.

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Sherrill 4 weeks, 1 day ago

I agree with you Birdie but plastic bags are a big problem for our oceans in general and the Bahamas' seas in particular. I know. I walk on the beach nearly every day and plastic bags are everywhere. SuperValue, Kentucky Fried, you name it. The number of plastic straws, cups, forks, spoons knives, pieces of plastic bottles, whole plastic bottles, plastic bags of every size and nature which I gather on my beach walks is mind numbing and depressing. Plus, I read the studies and scientific reports on plastics polluting the ocean and it is a serious global problem.

Our government should have partnered with retailers and grocery stores and helped by partially subsidizing their bringing in re-usable bags that people could buy for a dollar. Once you get into the habit of shopping with reusable bags, it becomes habitual.. After my groceries are unpacked, I put the bags by my purse so that the next time I go to my car I will take them back and put them in it to have on hand for the next time I have to go into a store. Some I keep strictly for groceries and some for non-grocery items.

A study was recently done on a worldwide basis which tested the flesh of every size of fish from the smallest to the largest (I'm not sure if included whales), but every single fish had PCBs and plastics in its flesh. Just let that sink in.

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Proguing 1 month ago

At a time of global warming with rising oceans and more powerful hurricanes, California announced that by 2035 there will be no new gasoline powered cars. And what do we do at the same time in the Bahamas, drill for oil???

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BahamaPundit 1 month ago

This is a no brainier. Obviously, this is not the country for oil drilling. Just look at what happened in Mauritius recently with the devastating oil spill. As with all things that smell fishy, follow the money. https://abcnews.go.com/International/...">https://abcnews.go.com/International/...

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DDK 1 month ago

Hard to believe any government would contemplate oil drilling in The Bahamas, even this band of doe does we are currently stuck with. There should never even be a discussion on the subject.

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rodentos 1 month ago

You do not understand it! Oil companies just clean the deep sea from dangerous substances like petroleum and they recycle it by feeding that stuff into internal combustion engines which convert the dirty oil into clean CO2, which in turn acts as plant fertilizer.

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Sherrill 4 weeks, 1 day ago

You're kidding; right? Otherwise, I think you've been deep into the Big Fossil Fuel's endless propaganda machine of disinformation.

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Sherrill 1 month ago

As a member of BREEF (Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation) I stand firmly against this inexcusable assault on our environment. Just the exploration phase will harm thousands of dolphins, whales and other marine life sensitive to the seismic blasting. So much so that many will even die. Oil drilling always is accompanied with leaks and spills. Always. The preposterous excuse that this Administration is only passing on the previous administration's licenses is hogwash: follow the money and it will show exactly who is going to profit and I can assure you, little, if any, will be the Bahamas Government. Our Government is using the excuse of covid19 and I do realize that we desperately need funds. First of all close down or sell Bahamasair. Take the $2M monthly losses and pay out the employees a hefty package which gives them enough time to get re-established in jobs. Secondly, immediately institute a National lottery and keep the millions of dollars that monthly flow out to America's lotteries in our own country. Next, make the Bahamas more attractive to legitimate people who want to invest here and take away some of the overwhelming red tape. We need protections/regulations but there is a way to have meaningful parameters but still encourage legitimate and profitable businesses to open here that will benefit our country. Next, legalize marijuana and let's get going with growing hemp and marijuana. We could have a medical marijuana hub, we can manufacture hempcrete which has far superior qualities of strength, it is 1/8th the weight, the environmental impact of making it is greatly less and it does not expand and contract the way concrete does. Then there is the superior to regular plywood, hemp plywood, hemp fabrics, hemp oil and bio fuels. There is an entire industry waiting for a place to park itself and the Bahamas could be it. From farm to finish, the Bahamas could be excelling with that and the marijuana industries. Our Government is still in 20th a Century mindset but we are now in the 21st Century. Why don't we have a mini Silicon Valley of tech companies developing in Grand Bahama? It could be made so attractive to many entrepreneurs looking for just what the Bahamas could offer in incentives and tax breaks. We absolutely have to get beyond the tourism only mindset as our main industry. It is never going to be the same since covid19 and we have to face that fact with version and courage and stop looking at immediate oil gratification (which is a hoax in itself) with side effects that would destroy our fishing and tourism businesses all together.

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Porcupine 1 month ago

Excellent Sherrill, Our so-called leaders need to have the utmost pressure applied so that the rest of the world can see how inept, corrupt and useless they are for our people and our planet. This includes Minnis, and Romauld. This would be no Christmas present for The Bahamas. Let's end this nonsense now.

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Sherrill 4 weeks, 1 day ago

Thank you, Porcupine. I have to hope and pray to the Goddesses and Gods, Karma, the Divine Intelligence, Buddha and any other spiritual entities who will listen, that more than corruption, it is stupidity and willful ignorance. As the Minister for the Environment, FERREIRA is a monumental disappointment, as is the PM; on so many levels. This business about having to continue the policies of the previous administration gives me great pause.

We need women in government and there are many well-informed, well educated, empathetic, intelligent, bold women of integrity who need to step forward as candidates and get rid of these self interested, dim witted, visionless, greedy men.

It is a paradox that in this matriarchal society of the Bahamas, women are not well represented in government. We are hardly represented at all! This must change.

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tribanon 4 weeks, 1 day ago

You make some good points here, but growing hemp and marijuana should play no part in dealing with our nation's problems.

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DWW 1 month ago

still waiting to see the terms of the license. what exactly is the monetary benefit to the bahamas as a whole and which bahamian (singular) is getting all the profit? Until then Minnis et. al. have lost all of my support.

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Voltaire 4 weeks, 1 day ago

The Royalties are 12.5 - 25% of their profit over and above projections, which they get to make up themselves. So basically, in practice, we are unlikely to get much.

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Sherrill 4 weeks, 1 day ago

To tribanon: And why, pray tell, should the Bahamas not be involved in growing hemp and marijuana? This gives me the idea that you may be ignorant and unaware of the innumerous scientific studies and reports of addiction as relates to marijuana. Hemp is a non-intoxicating form of cannabis and is the strongest natural fiber in the world. That's why it has been used since10,000 years ago. Perhaps you need to have a better understanding of both of these plants before you make such a pronouncement. I would be happy to enlighten you but you can go online and read all about it yourself, if you have an energetic and curious mind.

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