Who wants to drill for oil?
Bahamas Petroleum Company ten years old and more than 55% owned by companies based in London, Bristol and Glasgow, they hold at least four exploration licenses (Bain, Cooper, Donaldson and Eneas) on the Cay Sal Bank though there are several references online to a fifth called Miami (The Financial Times Ltd, 2019). They have stated that they will drill an exploratory well by the end of 2020, in their exploration area on the Cay Sal Bank in the Bahamas. They have lined up drilling contractor Seadrill. Halliburton will provide the equipment, tools and drilling plan. They expect a multibillion barrel prospect inventory from their statements (The Nassau Guardian, Aug 22 2019). One barrel is 42 US gallons FYI.
Now let’s drill a bit deeper. Who is the team that is proposing to drill for oil? Bahamas Petroleum Company executive leadership includes several people who spent much of their Career in BP. Of course they also have a (former) Bahamian senator on their executive leadership. And who is the Drilling Contractor that they got? Seadrill. Seadrill filed for bankruptcy in 2017, 2 years ago. Who are they getting their equipment and tools and the drilling plan from? Halliburton. You remember who was managing the Deepwater Horizon? Halliburton. I have zero confidence in the ability of this team to manage any oil drilling operation in a way that is safe for the Bahamian people or our environment in part, because I do not believe anyone on their team knows the Bahamian environment and its value sufficiently. You can read lots more on what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon and Halliburton’s involvement here.
When and where would they like to drill?
Next year, they want to drill an exploratory well in the shallow waters of the Cay Sal Bank, where our fishermen go to catch the lobster, grouper, conch and snapper we love to eat and we rely on to export or sell to our tourist guests. This Cay Sal Bank is next to our largest island, Andros, which has extensive mangroves and flats fishing areas, flamingo populations and the Andros crab habitat. Each of these elements are worth millions to the economy and replacing them would be virtually impossible and certainly a multi-billion dollar venture. BPC’s licenses are well defined in area, but whip out a map and ask a tourist guest if they know where the Cay Sal Bank is or what part of Jamaica the Bahamas is in. Most have no clue about Bahamian or Caribbean Geography. So an oil spill anywhere in the Bahamas in the media and tourism industry touches the entire Bahamas and the Caribbean.
What are the risks of an oil spill?
Let’s put some things in #perspective. The Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound Alaska on March 24th 1989. 1,000 miles of beach were covered by 10.8 million gallons of oil. Exxon Corp. with all its international resources could not respond sufficiently in time. The US Coast Guard were proficient at saving people and the equipment, but could not contain the oil. That was just under 11 million gallons back in 1989. the USA created the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, because of this Oil spill. Until around 2014 the USA still had liability limitations of 10 million dollars per oil tanker and 75 M for offshore production locations like rigs*. Experts agree that that is insufficient. In 2014 fisheries, marine mammals and bird populations still had not recovered.
The response capabilities of Alyeska Pipeline Service Company to deal with the spreading sea of oil would be tested and found to be both unexpectedly slow and woefully inadequate. The worldwide capabilities of Exxon Corp. would mobilize huge quantities of equipment and personnel to respond to the spill – but not in the crucial first few hours and days when containment and cleanup efforts are at a premium. The U.S. Coast Guard would demonstrate its prowess at ship salvage, protecting crews and lightering operations, but prove utterly incapable of oil spill containment and response. State and federal agencies would show differing levels of preparedness and command capability. And the waters of Prince William Sound – and eventually more than 1,000 miles of beach in Southcentral Alaska – would be fouled by 10.8 million gallons of crude oil. – Final Report, Alaska Oil Spill Commission
Published February 1990 by the State of Alaska.
Fast forward 20 years. The Deep Water horizon oil spill released 206 million gallons between April 20th and September 19th 2010 ( 5 months). The Deep water horizon oil spill took 5 months to stop even though, they were only 70 km off the coast of the USA. It was the second largest oil spill in history. Second only to the Iraqi army deliberately lighting wells under Sadam Hussein’s orders. That was deliberate. So as far as accidental oil spills go the Deepwater Horizon oil spill the largest marine oil spill in history. Before, during and after the oil spill, BP, Transocean and Halliburton were caught in behavior that resulted in the environmental damage, the loss of infrastructure, misrepresentation of the facts and the deaths of 11 men ages 22 to 56. Not to mention the impacts on fisheries and tourism across the southern coast of the USA and loss of faith in the quality or viability of their fishing industry. The US closed 19% of the fisheries area there. Louisiana issued an emergency declaration. They were not prepared. Despite their laws and regulations. Louisiana’s GDP was 225.6 B USD in 2010, the Bahamas expected 13 B before Grand Bahama and Abaco were taken out by Hurricane Dorian. If Louisiana, Alaska, Exxon Corp, BP and the US government could not respond to their respective oil spills, do you think The Bahamas would be able to?
But wait, we have an oil spill in the Bahamas right now to compare it to. The Equinor storage facility on Grand Bahama was compromised by Hurricane Dorian and an initial report was posted to their website on September 5th, 2019. The storage facility held 75 million gallons of oil and by September 25th they reported 252000 gallons had been recovered from outside the storage tanks and could potentially be reused after processing. An additional 12,000 cubic meters of sludge will be exported to the USA for processing while 750 cubic yards of contaminated soil and rock aggregate have to be treated before disposal in the Grand Bahama Landfill. Their gauges were impacted by the storm and so they cannot give an accurate amount dispersed into the environment. We do not have internal capacity to assess the impact or complete the clean up effort and Equinor has brought in about 150 people to help. Videos show Bahamian staff using vacuums to clean up the oil in minimal protective gear.
Do you think we are prepared?
Considering our lack of legal (check out the MerchantShippingOilPollutionAct_1) and physical infrastructure related to oil production and oil spill response and emergency management, do you think we would be able to respond to an oil spill of any magnitude on the Backside of Andros? How long before we would actually know about it? There is currently an oil spill in Grand Bahama due to Hurricane Dorian at the Statoil facility on Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation land since September 5th 2019 which we have not cleaned up yet and which the Equinor corporation has mobilized staff to clean up. We don’t have the capacity. and can we afford it? I know you did not actually read the oil spill act above but oil spillers are liable to a fine not to exceed “one hundred and twenty thousand dollars”.
Now, let’s hit the crux of the argument. Can we handle an oil spill economically? We have already established that foreign visitors do not understand Bahamian or Caribbean Geography. When the Hurricanes hit Ragged Island down south, people cancelled trips throughout the Bahamas. In the wake of Hurricane Dorian the Ministry of Tourism has even had to start a campaign explaining to people that we have 14 options that have not been impacted. Hurricanes pass through and the next day, we still have the sun, sand and sea. But oil spills are different. We do not have the resources to support fishermen, and their families for 25 years like the victims of the Exxon Valdez.
What about the health effects? Can you imagine eating oil contaminated shrimp, lobster, conch, fish or crabs from Andros? Do you even know how to detect if seafood is contaminated with oil? With insufficient research and the weak history of health science in the Bahamas, will we be able to study and detect the effects of an oil spill or involvement in cleanup efforts on our Bahamian people? The US did not after the Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon so who knows what the long-term effects are. But we do know it messes up fish for generations.
But what about the money? Firstly, you are stupid if you think the majority of the Bahamian population will see profits from oil exploration. Ask Trinidad, where 40% of their GDP comes from oil and gas along with 80% of their exports and only 5% of their employment. The average Trinidad and Tobago salary is about 22,000 BSD our current average is 40,000 BSD. Bahamas Petroleum Company is majority owned by businesses in Europe and the high paying oil rig jobs you keep hearing about take years of study and decades of experience, which Bahamians do not have. Therefore, the jobs that will be available to us will be cooking or cleaning. Maybe driving a boat. And I hope they get amazing pilots to avoid the many shallow reefs on the Cay Sal Bank. I have seen them and they are spectacular.
P.S. This is me angry writing and not doing an in depth investigation. We all need to stop and think about this oil exploration and the potential damage to our environment, economy and well-being.
*You may also want to look into the Oil Spill Liability trust fund rate reinforced by the US congress (https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr1892/BILLS-115hr1892enr.pdf). This fund taxes any oil brought into the us so that those funds can support oil spill cleanup at 9 cents a gallon