By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet minister yesterday argued The Bahamas should seek "offsetting” compensation from neighbouring countries if it bows to their demands to give up oil exploration.
Romauld Ferreira, minister for housing and the environment, speaking in the House of Assembly after the Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) this week advised that its exploratory Perseverance One well did not find commercial oil quantities, addressed both the local and international lobbying against the project.
"A lot of different countries and states in the United States offered their opinion as to whether The Bahamas should continue with oil exploration, but I didn't hear any of them speak of offering offsets to our economy that would equate, or be the equivalent, to the value of what oil would contribute by funding," Mr Ferreira said.
He added that The Bahamas' Crown Land is held in trust for its people by the Prime Minister, inclusive of the “biological resources and natural resources”, and these will be developed to the “benefit and well being” of the country and “not any one single interest group”.
While all opinions are respected, Mr Ferreira said, he added that “we’re all in this together". His comments came following intensive lobbying against BPC's exploratory well by local environmental activists, which ultimately resulted in a Judicial Review legal challenge to halt the drilling, as well as pressure from US congressmen and the likes of Coral Gables city in Florida being brought against The Bahamas.
Mr Ferreira said South American and Central African countries frequently face pressure from other nations about the damage mining does to their forests. In return for halting those activities, these countries turned around and asked the complainants for a financial “offset” and if they are willing to do the same inside their own borders.
"Larger countries told South America and Central Africa countries, strictly those countries, that we want you to conserve your forests, and their response was quite simple," Mr Ferreira said. "After they considered, their answer was as follows: ‘You didn't conserve yours and I'm giving it to you in a nutshell. You develop your economies, our people are living in poverty. Are you prepared to offer us the offset?"
“Biodiversity offsetting” – protecting animals and plants in one area to make up for negative impacts in another – is increasingly used by companies such as mining firms as a way to boost their corporate responsibility and prevent ethically-minded investors from defecting.
These are conservation actions intended to compensate for the residual, unavoidable impact on biodiversity caused by projects, ensure there is no net loss of biodiversity and, where possible, a net gain.
Mr Ferreira explained that the “offset” principle was important if developing countries such as The Bahamas are to consider requests to halt drillingh for oil or mining for natural resources. He added that no country has the right to block The Bahamas from any natural resources initiative it sees fit to pursue.