Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Prime Minister Perry Christie says that his government’s commitment to an oil referendum might have been miscommunicated

Christie defends oil exploration plan

PM explains decision on ‘research drilling’

Guardian Senior Reporter

Prime Minister Perry Christie yesterday denied that his administration has flip-flopped on the oil drilling referendum.

He said it was never the intent to interfere with the relevant research needed to determine if The Bahamas has commercially viable oil reserves.

Christie said his government’s commitment to an oil referendum might have been miscommunicated.

“I think at all material times the question probably was not put properly and effectively, but the process was that we were not going to interfere with research and there was a distinction between industrial drilling and research,” he told The Nassau Guardian during the House of Assembly’s recess.

He added that if oil is found but the referendum is not successful at least the country would be informed about its resources.

“People will ask the question, ‘Why should I vote and I don’t even know if there is oil?’”

He also said if significant oil is found in this territory it would be a blessing, but whether that oil would be harnessed would depend on a public vote.

He said it has not yet been determined how revenue from oil drilling would be split between the government and the Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC).

“If God has given The Bahamas oil in the quantities some people say exist, it would be an incredible bounty for our country,” Christie said.

“But we took a position that if there is going to be the exploitation of oil in The Bahamas, it has to be done with the consent of the Bahamian people.”

Yesterday, Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis suggested the government’s stance on the oil drilling referendum has shifted.

Christie has repeatedly pledged to hold a referendum before any drilling is allowed.

However, on Sunday, Minister of Housing and Environment Kenred Dorsett said the government would allow the drilling of an exploratory well before a referendum, to determine if the country has oil in commercial quantities.

Cuba is currently drilling for oil in waters south of Guinchos Cay in The Bahamas.

Christie referenced Dorsett’s recent trip to Cuba to discuss this and said this underscored the need for The Bahamas to create a proper regime for any possible oil drilling.

Some have speculated that if Cuba finds oil near The Bahamas’ borders, this country may also have significant oil reserves.

“I am told that the Cuban wells might be an indication, but because our structures are different to theirs, they believe the structures in The Bahamas are structures that contain oil, whether light crude or heavy crude, but contain oil in commercial quantities,” Christie said.

“So that will only happen when the people will obviously be consulted as to whether or not we should move ahead and drill.”

Minnis, the MP for Killarney, said the government was flip-flopping on oil drilling.

He said strict regulations must be enacted before an exploratory well is dug to ensure that the environment is protected.

“It’s a very dangerous road to tread without having proper regulations in place,” he said.

“We’ve seen what happened in the Gulf [of Mexico]. For something like that to happen in The Bahamas, where 80 percent of our employment depends on tourism, whether direct or indirect, that can be a disaster for this nation.

“Our position [is] no drilling at all until all the regulations are in place to ensure complete safety so that the Bahamian marine resources, tourism, etc, are completely protected.”

On Sunday, Dorsett said he does not expect an oil referendum before the second half of 2015.

He said the exploration data needed to verify if the country has commercially viable oil reserves would not be ready until the end of 2014 or early 2015.

BPC was granted five licenses for oil exploration in April 2007, at the tail end of Christie’s first term as prime minister.

The company has reportedly invested more than $50 million in the country to date; however, most of that has been limited to 3D seismic testing or mapping.

March 12, 2013