Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bahamas Government has suspended the consideration process for all oil exploration and drilling applications...

Govt suspends consideration process for oil exploration
Tribune Staff Reporter

GOVERNMENT has suspended the consideration process for all oil exploration and drilling applications until the country has stringent environmental protocols in place to mitigate against a catastrophic oil well leak.

According to Environment Minister Earl Deveaux, the new stipulation comes in response to British Petroleum's (BP) devastating oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico - which threatened fragile marine ecosystems and fishing industries - and the large volume of oil exploration applications inundating the government.

"The Ministry of the Environment has suspended consideration of all applications for oil exploration and drillings in the waters of the Bahamas. The ministry seeks, by this decision, to maintain and safeguard an unpolluted marine environment for the Bahamas notwithstanding the potential financial benefits of oil explorations," said a statement released by Dr Deveaux yesterday.

The release added that all existing licenses will be reviewed to ascertain any legal entitlement for renewal.

"We are not seeking to interfere with any existing licenses and the people who have licenses know of the policy. The recent events showed us that (a) oil if it is to be found, will likely be in the marine environment and (b) we want to maintain an unpolluted environment.

"And so before we explore for oil we want to have the most stringent environmental protocols in place," said Mr Deveaux when asked to clarify this point yesterday.

BPC Ltd recently partnered with Norwegian oil heavyweight Statoil to search for oil in some 2.5 million acres in Cay Sal Bank and hold five licenses for oil exploration. The government has not issued any licenses for oil drilling in Bahamian waters.

Environment Permanent Secretary Ronald Thompson said that while the ministry has yet to draft the necessary safety protocols, government will frame its future policies around existing ones from other countries.

"We haven't drafted any but there are ones that are in existence in other places where oil is currently being harvested or explored. We will in short order review all of those and come up with what we think will be the best (policies) for the Bahamas," said Mr Thompson.

Deepwater Horizon's oil rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers, and leaking an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil from BP's underwater well.

Yesterday's statement said that calamity underscored the need for precautions.

"Given recent events involving oil exploration and the efforts to prevent pollution, this prudent safeguard is essential to preserving the most vital natural resource of the Bahamas - its environment," said the statement.

Speaking to The Tribune, Mr Deveaux said more stringent protocols could have prevented BP's disaster. "Everything we learned about BP suggests that there were a few mishaps that could have been avoided," he said.

In May, Dr Deveaux said it would be "impractical and unreasonable" for the Bahamas to shy away from oil exploration or drilling as a consequence of the environmentally devastating oil leak off the coast of the US state of Louisiana.

"The world is not going to shy away from oil because of this accident. This is not the first or the last," he said at the time.

He also said earlier that proper management of resources would be vital to any oil discovery in Bahamian waters.

August 31, 2010