By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The verbal battle between the Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) and its opponents intensified yesterday as the oil explorer blasted “half-baked allegations” over its well’s insurance coverage.
Simon Potter, BPC’s chief executive, mounted a no-holds-barred assault against environmental activists on several fronts, including what he branded as “nonsensical” efforts to stop the oil explorer from being added as a party to the Judicial Review action challenging the Perseverance One well’s permits and approvals.
Accusing BPC’s opponents of failing to participate in consultation on the exploratory well, which is presently being drilled in waters 90 miles west of Andros, Mr Potter argued that they had waited “until the last minute to try to derail a project more than a decade in the planning and which, in the event of success, would be for the betterment of The Bahamas”.
Whether The Bahamas possesses commercial quantities of extractable oil will largely be determined by Perseverance One’s results, but Mr Potter also made a thinly-disguised threat to issue defamation proceedings against the activists for suggestions that BPC did not have the necessary insurance coverage for its well.
Both the Lloyd’s of London insurance market and its broker, Aon, confirmed that coverage was in place, although no details were provided. And, as a result, BPC’s opponents yesterday continued to demand that the amount and extent of insurance coverage be disclosed to give The Bahamas and its tourism/fisheries industries confidence everything is in place to deal with a potential oil spill.
Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) executive director, told Tribune Business: “BPC has still not answered the very basic questions about the limits of the coverage they have, specifically what is included and what is excluded.
“BPC has stated that they have tourism and fisheries ‘covered’. What does this really mean for tourism and fisheries in The Bahamas and neighbouring countries?”
Her comments came in response to the blistering rebuke issued by Mr Potter after the Supreme Court ruled that BPC should be added as a party to the Judicial Review, paving the way for it to demand that Waterkeepers Bahamas and Save the Bays lodge a performance bond - known as “security for costs” - to cover the company’s legal costs should their action fail.
“International and local environmentalist groups had argued that BPC should not be a party to the Judicial Review action they have brought, a nonsensical position given that virtually all communications and documents issued by these groups refer directly and extensively to BPC,” Mr Potter said. “We’re therefore pleased that the court has ruled in favour of BPC by being added as a primary respondent.
“As a consequence of this ruling BPC is now legally enabled to request that the applicants provide security for costs, and a hearing for this has been scheduled for 17 February, 2021. Obviously BPC would want the environmentalist groups to be held financially accountable if their application turns out to have been without merit.”
The oil explorer’s opponents are arguing that this is merely a tactic to deny them justice, and a hearing on the Judicial Review action’s merits, with BPC using its financial muscle to prevent the case progressing. However, Mr Potter countered by accusing the activists of seeking to damage the oil explorer’s name via a series of public allegations.
“Despite numerous opportunities and requests over many, many years from BPC to the environmentalist groups to input constructively into a wide range of detailed processes and documents, they have opted instead to do nothing, and then belatedly and at the last minute try to derail a project more than a decade in the planning and which, in the event of success, would be for the betterment of The Bahamas,” Mr Potter added.
“Their attempts to date have not been successful and drilling of Perseverance One continues. By April we will know if the Bahamas is an oil rich nation.” Mr Potter did not identify the consultation opportunities presented to the activists as he turned his attention to the issue of BPC’s insurance.
“BPC has repeatedly advised that it had placed an extensive suite of insurance policies to cover drilling operations for Perseverance One,” he added.
“Insurance was arranged by leading global insurance agent, Aon UK, and placed with a panel of insurers comprising of Lloyd’s of London and international company markets (with all meeting local Bahamian insurance regulations), all of which have a financial rating of ‘A’or higher from Standard & Poor’s.
“The policy utilises internationally recognised wordings and complies with BPC’s contractual obligations, including cover levels considerably in excess of those stipulated as being required by the Government of The Bahamas.”
No details were provided, but Mr Potter accused BPC’s opponents of using a Lloyd’s of London statement to make “half-baked allegations” that he hinted could be subject to a defamation action. “It would appear that those opposed to BPC’s activities consider distorting facts and spreading untruths as ‘fair game’ - evidence, once again, of the extraordinary lengths those opposed to BPC’s activities are willing to stoop in order to progress their agenda,” he added.
“Furthermore, deliberate spreading of mistruths constitutes libel, and BPC considers that those responsible – including the individuals making these statements – should be held to account. Environmentalist groups opposed to BPC’s activities are perfectly entitled to their views, but that does not mean they should be allowed to spread mistruths without consequence.”
However, Lindsay Keenan, the Insure our Future advocacy group’s European co-ordinator, said the uncertainty over BPC’s insurance was created by a Lloyd’s of London spokesperson saying there was no record of coverage being placed with the market’s syndicates. This, he added, was compounded by its refusal to provide further clarification.
“The fact remains that whilst Lloyd’s have now clarified that it is insuring the project, the details of the insurance cover have not been made public, and we and other campaign groups continue to call for them to be so that they are open to scrutiny by the wider society of stakeholders,” Mr Keenan added.
“That’s not conspiracy; that’s transparency and accountability. All Mr Potter has to do now, which is all he ever had to do, was to provide a copy of the insurance certificate. What good reason is there for him not to do so?
“And to be clear. This is not to assert that the details of the insurance policy are lacking,” Mr Keenan added. “Perhaps the insurance policy does clearly cover all clean-up costs in case of accident, including compensation for all affected stakeholders, and perhaps they also adequately cover the professional liabilities of BPCs officers and managers, and all other relevant insurances.
“Right now, however, those details are not publicly available, and environmental groups and other stakeholders have a legitimate and reasonable right to ask to see them.”