By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Oil exploration opponents are persisting with their Judicial Review challenge in a bid to “draw a line in the sand they will not back away from” over future drilling activities, a prominent QC is warning.
Fred Smith QC, the Callenders & Co attorney and partner, who is representing Save the Bays and Waterkeepers Bahamas in their fight over the permits and approvals granted to Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC), said the latter’s Perseverance One exploratory well could be just the first of several intended to be drilled within Bahamian territorial waters.
He told Tribune Business it was vital that the Bahamian judicial system be able to determine whether laws such as the Planning and Subdivisions Act (site plan approval), the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of The Bahamas Act (excavation permit) and the Merchant Shipping Prevention of Oil Pollution Act apply to future exploratory well permitting processes.
“Whether it’s one or more wells, the fact that BPC was able to actually drill was a wake-up call to the environmentalists in The Bahamas that the Government is not defending the environment,” Mr Smith said.
“Notwithstanding their [the Government’s] apparent commitment to a blue and green economy, and despite the Prime Minister and Cabinet coming out in opposition to oil drilling, the precedent matters.
“This is really an attempt to draw a line in the sand beyond which the environmentalists do not intend to back away from.” Responding to assertions by Romauld Ferreira, minister of the environment, that the BPC furore is now behind The Bahamas after the company abandoned and plugged Perseverance One, Mr Smith said: “I don’t know how we can put it behind us when they have other licences.
“There is a real continuing risk to the environment, so the [environmental] Coalition has a real long-term commitment to doing it’s best to educate the public and persuade the political powers that be not to approve or renew further licences, and to use the judicial process to determine what are the consulting obligations of then Government and the oil companies. What legislation does or does not apply?”
With BPC still demanding that the environmental groups provide a $200,000 “security for costs” bond despite the end to Perseverance One, it remains to be seen whether the Judicial Review will make it to a full hearing on the merits. And it is also uncertain whether BPC will apply to renew the five licences that are due to expire at end-June 2021 by the March 31 submission date.
BPC, in a long release that portrayed the situation as the equivalent of a “glass half full”, last week said drilling Perseverance One to a depth of 3,900 metres had detected the presence of hydrocarbons but not enough to make it commercially viable at that site.
It added, though, that the Perseverance One well’s findings had made the “technical” case that commercial oil reserves may be located in areas covered by some of its four other licences and it was not giving up on The Bahamas just yet.
While the data collected from its exploratory drilling has yet to be reviewed and presented to the Bahamian government, as required by its licence terms, BPC indicated that there was sufficient justification to consider drilling further exploratory wells in addition to continuing the search for a joint venture partner.
“The company considers the results from Perseverance One, notably the confirmation of migrated oil within the Aptian reservoirs, will significantly reduce technical risk for any future/further exploration in this new frontier province,” BPC’s statement said.
“In particular, BPC considers that the results from Perseverance One may provide a strong technical basis for renewed farm-in discussions, with a view to future drilling at other target locations within BPC’s licence areas.” This leaves open the possibility that BPC may resume exploration in other Bahamian licence fields.
However, the statement made clear that BPC’s short-term focus is now switching from The Bahamas to its recently-acquired prospects in Trinidad and Suriname, where it hopes to achieve production of 2,500 barrels of oil per day this year, plus its newly-acquired exploration rights off the Uruguayan coast.
Simon Potter, BPC’s chief executive, said: “Perseverance One is the first exploration well in The Bahamas for decades, and the data gathered from this well will prove invaluable in providing a modern analysis as to the regional potential of the petroleum system which, in our view, reduces technical risk for any future/further exploration in this new frontier province.
“The company will proceed to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the data derived from the well, as we believe the results provide a sound technical basis for renewed farm-in discussions.”