Darville: NGOs blindsided by oil drilling approval

Darville: NGOs blindsided  by oil drilling approval

Joseph Darville

NASSAU, The Bahamas--In a lengthy affidavit in support of a bid by environmental interests to stop the Bahamas Petroleum Company’s (BPC’s) exploratory drilling set to take place ninety miles off Andros this month, Executive Chairman of the Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay, Joseph Darville paints a picture of stakeholders being kept in the dark as the government quietly granted approvals to BPL.

  A key ground of the legal action filed this week by Waterkeeper Bahamas Ltd. and the Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay (Save the Bays) against the government is what they described as a lack of consultation, notwithstanding the fact that the groups were invited to a meeting with Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira in 2018.

  Darville says that three weeks after the BPC application for environmental authorisation and its environmental impact assessment (EIA) and environmental management plan (EMP) were submitted (which was not known to interested environmental groups at the time), a large number of environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were invited to a meeting with Minister Ferreira, which took place at the minister’s offices on May 17, 2018.

  The purpose of the meeting, he says, was to discuss the government’s position on the future of oil drilling in the Bahamas.

  Prior to the meeting, Darville says, the NGOs had been surprised with comments made in a press statement by BPC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Simon Potter, who said, “The submission of an application for environmental authorisation is an important milestone for BPC, as we move toward offshore field activity and operations in the Bahamas …”

  Darville states, “At the meeting the minister questioned each person and organisation about their views with respect to oil drilling in the Bahamas. We all objected to it and said it was something that should never be done in our waters.

  “The same question was then put to the minister by myself and others. He said he did not have an opinion but that as far as the Cabinet of the Bahamas is concerned, there would ‘never’ be a permission given for offshore drilling for oil in the Bahamas.

  “At this, there erupted a big explosion of applause and congratulations and we all went our way comfortable and joyful.”

  Darville says, “There was no communication from the minister at that meeting that they were on track to approve oil drilling, that there were new proposals or extensions of existing proposals being considered by government, or that we had any reason to be concerned.

  “We came away from the meeting with the very clear impression that there was no immediate threat of oil drilling in Bahamian waters and at least not during the Minnis administration.”

  Darville says, “I now know, but I was unaware at the time, that on January 31, 2020, BPC announced a roadmap to drilling the Perseverance #1 well in 2020.”

  The drill ship Stena IceMAX is en route to the Bahamas for the controversial drilling.

  The environmental groups want an injunction to stop BPC from proceeding and want a judicial review of the government’s decisions authorising the exercise.

  Darville says, “On February 28, 2020, BPC announced that it had received all necessary environmental approvals to drill an exploratory well, including the environmental authorisation from the minister which it said it received on February 27, 2020.

  “This came as a huge and unpleasant surprise to me and my colleagues given the very clear no-drilling assurance we had been given by the minister …”

  The groups allege that the government’s decisions to allow BPC to proceed were unlawful because the EIA fails in myriad separate ways to comply with the requirements of the Petroleum (Offshore Environmental Protection and Pollution Control) Regulations 2016 (“the Petroleum Offshore EPP Regulations”).

  The applicants also submit the decision by the minister in November 2020 to allow the project to proceed in December 2020 would be a breach of the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of the Bahamas Act because of the failure to obtain an excavation permit and because of the failure to obtain site plan approval under the Planning and Subdivision Act.

  “The decisions were irrational as taken without any or any proper regard to the environmental protection principles set out in the Petroleum Offshore EPP Regulations and in light of the obvious defects in the EIA and EMP,” Darville adds in his affidavit.

  He states that on May 26, 2020, BPC announced that it had signed a drill rig contract with Stena’s IceMax for the Perseverance #1 well drill in the fourth quarter of 2020 with a “significantly reduced cost estimate for its first exploration well in the Bahamas.

   “This was a different drilling contractor to that named in the EIA and EMP, Seadrill Ltd., and its drill ship West Saturn,” Darville continues.

  “The EIA and EMP contain pages of detailed specifications of West Saturn, its experience drilling in Brazil, the experience of its crew etc.

  “A large proportion of the EMP and appendices thereto are Seadrill-produced documents detailing their procedures, plans and policies.

  “We have seen no such information in relation to Stena IceMAX. It is not clear whether the minister or director of environmental protection and planning have seen an amended EIA or EMP.”

  Darville points to an October 14, 2020, e-mail from Bahamas Offshore Petroleum Limited’s (BOP’s) public relations representative Serena Williams. BOP is a wholly-owned Bahamian subsidiary of BPC and is said to be the entity that holds the licences to prospect for oil in nearly four million acres of Bahamian waters, which includes the drill site.

  In the release, the company says, “The approved environment impact assessment is currently being updated because of the COVID-19 pandemic interruptions to the exploration start-up date which was set for this past March 2020. Because of the pandemic, BPC had to set a new exploration date and a different oil rig ship, so those are the changes submitted to the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP).”

  In letters to Minister Ferreira and DEPP Director Rochelle Newbold on November 17, 2020, Waterkeeper Bahamas observed that this would require an amended EIA to be submitted to the director and asked for a copy of the same and details of the consultation process in respect thereof.

  Darville says it appears that the November decisions approving modifications to the project may have been taken without the amended EIA referred to by BPC’s media representative on October 14, 2020, or a fresh environmental assessment (EA) application having been submitted and in any event without any consultation on such (as required by law).

  “To date we have not seen an amended EIA,” he states.

  BPC has vowed through its lawyers to “vigorously oppose any application for an injunction and leave to apply for judicial review whether it is joined as a respondent or an interested party.”

  Its legal team contends that to order the suspension of the project at such a late stage, after the project costs have been incurred, would threaten its viability and thereby subvert the public interest. ~ The Nassau Guardian ~

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