The oil drilling debate in The Bahamas is turning into a blame game with the country’s Deputy Prime Minister going on record to suggest that the current deal with Bahamas Petroleum Company is “airtight” and the result of negotiations by a former PLP administration.
The BPC deal has garnered much attention with environmental groups, both locally and internationally, calling for the Minnis administration to end the deal and permanently ban offshore drilling in the islands, citing longterm negative impacts on local and regional marine ecosystems and the overall environment. They say the risks involved in oil drilling greatly outweigh any potential benefits.
Local groups Save The Bays and Waterkeeper Bahamas Limited have gone as far as to petition the courts and have been rewarded with Supreme Court Justice Petra Hanna-Adderley granting them leave to seek judicial review of the government’s approvals for BPC to drill an exploratory well in Bahamian waters, ruling that they do have “an arguable case”.
Hanna-Adderley, however, denied their application for a stay of the ongoing drilling exercise, which began on December 20.
In what appears to be an effort to deflect from the Minnis administration’s complicity in the negotiations, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister, while appearing as a guest on a local talk show recently, insisted that the Bahamian people must look at who granted the licenses, who has interest in the deal and why the agreed royalty is so low.
There have also been suggestions that Opposition leader Philip “Brave” Davis – who at one time was the legal counsel for BPC in the deal’s negotiations - has something to gain from the deal.
Bannister maintained that the Minnis administration does not support offshore drilling and he charged that the administration is merely following legal advice that it must honour the licenses granted to BPC.
He added that renegotiating royalties in the BPC agreement would be what’s in the best interest of the Bahamian people. Reportedly, should commercial quantities of oil be found in The Bahamas, the Minnis administration will renegotiate the royalties and the funds will be directed to the Consolidated Fund and the Sovereign Wealth Fund for the benefit of the Bahamian people.
Well, in response to what the DPM had to say, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman Fred Mitchell categorized the comments as “duplicitous, disgraceful and intellectually dishonest,” adding that the Minnis administration cannot get away with blaming the PLP for the actions of an FNM government.
Mitchell also asserted that the FNM’s explanation on oil drilling is “totally unacceptable”.
BPC was initially awarded five exploratory licenses by the Christie administration more than a decade ago in 2006.
In April 2020, the Minnis administration extended the validity of BPC’s licenses to December 2020. In August of that year, it renewed BPC’s licenses to April of this year, and in November it re-extended that validity to June of this year.
While the original deal to explore the possibility for oil may be “airtight,” these extensions and/or renewed arrangements - as was referenced publicly by Attorney General Carl Bethel – gave Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and his Cabinet the opportunity to renegotiate and improve on any element of that deal they found unfavourable. DPM Bannister, while echoing Prime Minister Minnis’ assertion that his administration does not support oil drilling in Bahamian waters, failed to mention that he, the Prime Minister and other Cabinet members fumbled several opportunities to stand behind that claim by not renewing/extending the deal.
Prior to his introduction to frontline politics, PLP leader Philip “Brave” Davis served just one year as BPC’s attorney and was succeeded in 2007 by legal firm Higgs & Johnson. Graham, Thompson Attorneys currently represents the government in the deal.
BPC’s drilling exercise is expected to be completed within 45 to 60 days of commencement and does not involve extracting any oil, if found. Company executives have said that Bahamians will likely learn within four to six weeks whether The Bahamas is an oil-rich nation.