U.S. lawmakers again pressure Bahamas to abandon oil exploration

Bert Wilkinson | 12/24/2020, midnight
As Caribbean neighbors Guyana and Suriname continue to make global headlines with world class offshore oil discoveries, the U.S. government, ...
Flag of The Bahamas Image by jorono from Pixabay

As Caribbean neighbors Guyana and Suriname continue to make global headlines with world class offshore oil discoveries, the U.S. government, a bipartisan group of American lawmakers and local activists continue to put pressure on authorities in The Bahamas to shut down the island’s most recent efforts to find commercial quantities of oil and gas.

Earlier this year, the same group of lawmakers had unsuccessfully asked Mike Pompeo’s distracted State Department to intervene to halt an effort by The Bahamas Petroleum Corporation (BPC) to drill the Perseverance One well in the coming week. The legislators had demanded that the Trump administration use its powers and influence to force an abandonment of any offshore drilling, fearing a spill could wipe out marine SCUBA diving and other marine sports affecting areas north of The Bahamas and the Florida coast among others.

This time as the Tribune newspapers reports, the lawmakers have turned their attention to the local cabinet, writing to Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham directly urging him to abandon the plan and to chase away the Stenna IceMax from the offshore drilling area. Actual drilling in an area off Andros Island was expected to commence this week.

The Minnis administration has been coming under fierce criticism from local and international environmental groups to stop the project but the PM countered last week by saying the nation was locked into an airtight deal and could not exit the agreement that easily especially because no local laws had been breached. He, however, made it plain that he and some other cabinet ministers were totally against oil exploration but were prepared to honor a signed agreement. The letter was dated Dec. 17.

“Should BPC’s project move forward,” the letter stated, “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. It is unclear whether BPC has the capacity to help mitigate a serious disaster, let alone prevent one in the first place. Should a calamitous event occur, the Bahamian government and BPC’s cleanup efforts will undoubtedly require financial assistance from neighbors, including the United States, to address any spill that would spread throughout domestic and international waters.

Like the previous group which had written to Pompeo, this one also harked back to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill off the American south coast, noting that that disaster had killed 11 drill ship staffers, spewed 200 million gallons of crude into the Atlantic and had caused massive economic and environmental devastation to contiguous areas.

But while the various groups are engaging in their anti-drilling activities even as the Christmas break looms, the Stenna IceMax is getting ready to drill what the American lawmakers say is a well that is similar to the one that British petroleum had sunk before the project had exploded in a ball of flames with the resulting spill of millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico.

“It has become clear that oil companies such as BPC have every intention to plow ahead despite red flags, which warn of the grave health, natural disaster and environmental risks of drilling,” the lawmakers contended as the local senate prepares to debate the issue this week.

For its part, the BPC continues to argue that the island chain has the right to exploit its natural resources, pointing to the possibility of life changing economic fortunes for the better if commercial quantities are indeed found as it also pointed to the vulnerability of the lifeline tourism sector to global shock such as the COVID-19 pandemic.