By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Oil exploration opponents yesterday voiced hope that the "big deal" of support from around 80 international sources would "make the Government come to its senses before it is too late".
Ramping up its campaign to persuade the Government to halt the Bahamas Petroleum Company's (BPC) plans, the Our Islands, Our Future coalition said it had received backing from "some of the biggest names in global ocean conservation".
The group, which is spearheaded by local activists such as the Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF) and Waterkeeper Bahamas, touted the names of non-profit organisations such as Oceana, Surfrider Foundation, Waterkeeper Alliance, Earthjustice, the Rainforest Action Network and Friends of the Earth in the latest letter said to have been sent to the Prime Minister.
"This is a big deal," Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, BREEF's executive director, told Tribune Business. "The whole world is watching what The Bahamas does - whether we decide to allow oil drilling in our waters or choose a more sustainable future. These are some of the biggest names in global ocean conservation.
"The Bahamas has been a world leader in marine conservation. The conservation measures that the country has taken over the years, including establishing a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and protecting endangered species, have sustained our tourism and fishing industries. Drilling for oil would jeopardise it all."
Time is running out for environmental activists, both in The Bahamas and abroad, to encourage the Government to reverse course on all the approvals it has provided to BPC. The ship hired by the company to drill its first exploratory well, in waters some 91 miles west of Andros close to the maritime boundary with Cuba, is due to arrive in The Bahamas in around a month's time.
Our Islands, Our Future, in a statement released yesterday, said "businesses and high profile personalities" had also given their backing for a campaign seeking "a permanent ban enacted on all fossil fuel exploration anywhere in the country". It added that 80 groups in 15 countries had signed the latest letter to the Prime Minister.
The group's website, in listing its supporters, did not name any "personalities" among both local and international backers. Those from overseas appeared to be mainly non-profits, although businesses did figure among Our Islands, Our Future's local advocates.
Noting that it had not received a reply to its earlier letters, which cited the 40,000-plus signatures to its petition against oil exploration as well as listing the perceived dangers associated with drilling, Our Islands, Our Future said it had also received backing from Mission Blue.
It added that the group was led by marine biologist, explorer and author, Dr Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence was the first female chief scientist of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and named Time Magazine’s first Hero for the Planet in 1998.
"It's clear this issue is giving great concern to organisations all over the world," said Chris Wilke, global advocacy manager of Waterkeeper Alliance, which focuses on protecting rights to clean water. "The world is watching, and in the face of global climate change, the world needs for this precious resource of community resiliency and biodiversity protected for future generations”.
Ms McKinney added of BPC's plans: “This poses a critical threat to our world-renowned oceans, reefs and beaches. BPC cannot be allowed to move forward with their plans, and we need the Bahamas government to understand that the world is watching this situation very closely.
“It is difficult to exaggerate how out of step with the global trend this is. For example, notably fossil fuel-friendly President Trump recently agreed to extend the moratorium on offshore drilling in Florida waters to cover the state’s Atlantic coast, literally right on our doorstep.
"The Prime Minister should perhaps ask himself why BPC is so keen on coming here. Could it be that these start-up oil companies are finding fewer and fewer communities willing to gambling away their future?" she continued.
“We could not be more pleased with, or appreciate, the fantastic level of international support we have been receiving. Hopefully the Government of the Bahamas will take note and come to its senses before its too late.”
Rashema Ingraham, executive director of Waterkeeper Bahamas, added: “Any major disaster would totally devastate our tourism, our commercial fishing, diving and marine recreation industries..... We call on the Government to cancel all existing licenses immediately, disregard any license renewal proposals and place a permanent ban on all offshore oil drilling.”
She also voiced scepticism on previous BPC pledges that it has sufficient insurance to cover the costs associated with any oil spill clean-up and remediation, arguing that The Bahamas would be "left holding a toxic bag of unthinkable consequences".
Roberta Quant, BPC's environmental scientist, had previously told Tribune Business the insurance coverage for its first well will cover any tourism or fisheries losses “in the highly unlikely event” of any spill or environmental impact.
The oil explorer said all necessary insurance covers for Perseverance One had been secured through the broker, Aon UK, with insurers from Lloyd’s of London and other international markets underwriting it.
“This policy provides cover for the costs of halting and remediating any incident during drilling, including the costs of redrill, the costs of drilling a relief well, and the costs of any remedial or clean-up operations,” Ms Quant told this newspaper.
“The insurance policy also provides third-party liability cover losses that might be suffered in the highly unlikely event of such an incident – for example, losses that a fisherman or hotel might suffer - although, as mentioned, this is considered to be an extremely remote and highly unlikely possibility.
“The level of insurance cover obtained is considerably in excess of the minimum levels of cover required by the Government, as well as commensurate with or in excess of cover in place for similar wells being drilled in other locations in the world,” she continued.
“It is also worth noting that the insurance companies – who will be financially exposed to the costs of responding to any incidents – required BPC’s drilling plan, Environmental Impact Assessment, Environmental Authorisation and Environmental Management Plan to be submitted to a third-party technical review.
“This review assessed all BPC plans, policies and procedures to be of global standard, with risks appropriately identified and planned for, such that the project was able to secure insurances as required. Furthermore, all of our main well contractors, being Stena, Halliburton and Schlumberger, again global names and industry leaders, have extensive insurance policies of their own in place.”