Controversy looms again in Bahamas over oil drilling

Bert Wilkinson | 4/1/2021, midnight
Left to the state-owned Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC), a second round of drilling for oil and gas would begin in ...
Flag of The Bahamas Image by jorono from Pixabay

Left to the state-owned Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC), a second round of drilling for oil and gas would begin in earnest around midyear, but if senior cabinet members like Prime Minister Hubert Minnis have their way, permits to explore off the south coast would be a thing of the past.

This week, the BPC was preparing to apply for a renewal of drilling permits ahead of a second round of planned well drillings. The current crop of licenses are due to expire in June. Local laws mandate that renewal efforts must be made within a specified time ahead of the expiry dates so the BPC is preparing to approach the state once again to allow it to search for oil and gas

The company must apply for an extension three months before the expiration. The word from the halls of government is that cabinet is not excited about a second drilling phase and appears to be worried about the possibility of a dirty oil spill that could wipe out its world class tourism product, crippling yachting, scuba diving, snorkeling and other water sports.

In December, BPC’s Perseverance-1 well did not produce commercial quantities of oil and gas but officials say the indications were promising enough to continue the program. Local environmental groups which had so staunchly opposed the drilling program are preparing for another bruising campaign and like the last time, appear to have the government in their corner.

“I have not seen any requests. But, I will state again my position with respect to drilling in our waters. I am totally against drilling within our sea waters. I think our waters should be preserved. We have some of the best fish nurseries in the world. I think it’s essential for us to preserve that, protect our marine resources, protect our waters, “PM Minnis told reporters.

The Bahamian efforts to find offshore oil and gas come as a slew of other Caribbean Community nations also move to ramp up exploration.

Authorities in Barbados, for example, recently said all systems are in place for Australian oil explorer BHP to begin work later this year. Their program was stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic in the past year but Energy Minister Kerrie Symmonds said, “We’re now at the stage where the company is ready to commence its offshore exploration work in 2021. Over the last year while we were on pause due to COVID we were negotiating with the company to explore ways in which we could improve the exploration work program.”

Jamaica and Grenada are also moving to get into the race but the Jamaicans are well ahead of Grenada and have their eyes on work off its southern coast as well as onshore acreages where oil seeps have been detected.

A mid-2015 massive oil find by Guyana appears to have served as the spark for its regional neighbors as Suriname soon followed with a series of massive wells bearing sweet, light crude that needs little refining. The nearly 25 finds by the two nations have now made the Guyana-Suriname basin one of the most attractive in the world, so much so that ExxonMobil is selling off some of its assets around the world to focus on its Guyana gem of an oil find.

But for officials in The Bahamas, the tourism product is way more important than the millions in revenue that could be accrued from an oil sector.

“That’s our tourist product. That’s our food source. That’s our economy. And yes, oil may make a few people rich but look around the world. Does it benefit the entire nation? But I do know that tourism benefits all. I do know that our marine life benefits all. I do know that the beauty of our resources and our water benefits all and I will do all to protect it,” PM Minnis said.