By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
A University of The Bahamas (UB) professor yesterday said that exploratory oil drilling is “absolutely against our best interest” as a country due to the nation's climate change vulnerabilities.
Dr Adelle Thomas, climate change specialist and director of UoB's Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Research Centre, told a Bahamas Business Outlook preview: “With regards to the oil drilling, I think it is absolutely against our best interests - as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change - to pursue oil drilling.
“It is the equivalent of us being on a sinking ship, and asking the international community for help, while at the same time drilling holes in the hole and throwing out our lifeboats.”
BPC's backers, though, will likely argue that the Bahamian economy has been crying out for more than a decade for the diversification and fiscal boost that a potential commercial oil discovery can provide.
With COVID-19 and Hurricane Dorian's devastation having slashed between $1.5bn to $2bn off Bahamian economic output, and the national debt projected to break the $10bn mark by mid-2022, their argument is that The Bahamas simply cannot afford to stoop pursuing a new national resource.
But, speaking after the Supreme Court this week declined to halt Bahamas Petroleum Company's exploratory drilling in waters 90 miles west of Andros, Dr Thomas said she has written and published numerous letters urging the Government to put a halt to this immediately.
Warning that permitting oil drilling within its waters could have international consequences for The Bahamas, Dr Thomas added: “I would say the international community is paying attention. You will see the letter that the Congress people from Florida sent over, so they're very much paying attention.”
Dr Thomas was referring to a letter, dated December 17, penned by Florida state representative, Alcee Hastings, which was endorsed by 16 other US representatives and argued that The Bahamas should reconsider giving the go-ahead to BPC “to protect the beauty and longevity of our fragile and shared ecosystems, the economies that depend on them, and the future of our planet".
The letter added: “Should BPC’s project move forward, we will be justified in fearing that the Atlantic coast is at risk of severe, even catastrophic, impact from any spills that might occur – essentially undermining the recent offshore drilling ban extension from President Trump, and future offshore drilling restrictions.”
Dr Thomas, acknowledging that the Trump administration is in its final days, said she was looking forward to president-elect Joe Biden acting more swiftly on environmental concerns and intensifying diplomatic efforts to halt oil drilling in The Bahamas.
She added: “I think, when we start looking for bilateral aid, particularly from the United States, with a new Biden administration coming in they will look at what actions are we doing to help ourselves. I think that will influence, you know, whether aid will come to us specifically for climate change.”
Meanwhile, Andros residents and businesses yesterday largely argued that The Bahamas should "leave oil drilling alone" despite BPC's pledge that the country will know "within four to six weeks whether it is an oil rich nation".
Juliet Newbold, general manager of Andros Island Bonefish Club, said: “I think any form of drilling in our environment is not good at all.” She added that The Bahamas is “already blessed with natural resources", and the potential damage from oil drilling was not worth it.
“Anything of that nature could be more detrimental to the Bahamian people than anything else,” Ms Newbold said. “There are few places on the planet where you can go and find such a pristine environment.
"We are blessed in the fishing industry with all of these other sea creatures, so why take a risk to see if there is oil and who is going to benefit from our oil? I see foreigners just coming in and reaping the benefits and leaving us with the mess we can’t clean up.”
Andros is the closest island to BPC's exploratory well, which is 90 miles off its western shore. Nelson Gaitor, owner/operator of Gaitor’s Variety Store, said: “It might be good for The Bahamas if they strike oil, but then if we have any oil spill that might be the problem.”
Randy Butler, president of SkyBhamas and the Andros-based Island Beach Resort, described the Government as “directionless” on oil exploration.
He added: “The Prime Minister of our country said that he checked with his legal consultants and they told him there is no way to get out of a contract. He is a doctor and he has had many contracts in his life. All contracts have a way to get out of them.
“This is typical of the same thing with the mining that they talk about in Andros. There was no town meeting, no Zoom meeting or any type of consultation with Androsians. Where we get most of our information in Andros is from the newspaper and not from our elected representatives.”