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Delegates arrive for oil forum

A regional forum to discuss offshore oil drilling safety in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean got underway in the capital yesterday as several Caribbean nations look to drop oil wells into coastal waters soon.

According to an International Maritime Organization (IMO) consultant, the forum welcomed delegates from Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico and the U.S.   Along with The Bahamas, each of those countries has or potentially could have oil wells off their shores next year.  That intensifies the need to ensure adequate frameworks are in place to address cross-border cooperation in the event of an oil spill.

“I hope this forum puts the region – The Bahamas, Cuba and The United States – in a better position to respond to any emergency,” Paul Gucwa, chief operating officer for

Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) told Guardian Business in an interview yesterday.

“For our drilling we would want that to be in place.”

The UK oil company is ready to take advantage of exploration licenses and promising preliminary research to drop an exploratory well in waters in the southern Bahamas next year.

The research they have conducted highlights the need for international cooperation and agreed contingency plans in the event of an oil spill.  According to Gucwa, prevailing wind and water currents at its intended drill site would spare Bahamian coast lines, but pose a risk to Cuba’s.

One environmentalist opposed to drilling altogether said nations who want to benefit from oil production must take full responsibility for any ensuing damages – The Bahamas being no exception.

“If a country is willing to take on oil drilling, if there is a spill then the country doing the drilling has to cough up some dollars,” Sam Duncombe told Guardian Business.  “Oil exploration and drilling have proven time and time again to have major problems associated with them.”

Duncombe referenced recent efforts by U.S. Senators Bill Nelson (Florida) and Bob Menendez (New Jersey) to introduce a bill to ensure that foreign oil producers were financially accountable for damages that result from oil spills originating outside of American waters.

“It’s something we must look at too,” Duncombe said.  It has implications for this country as both a potential victim and perpetrator of a spill, should exploratory drilling occur in Bahamian territorial waters next year.

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the Government of The Bahamas has put the brakes on any oil drilling in these waters.  According to official statements, it’s been in an information-gathering phase to ensure all appropriate protocols and measures are in place first.

The ongoing forum should assist with those efforts.  According to information from the IMO, the forum’s objective is to further the effectiveness of the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation (OPRC).  That convention was adopted in 1990 but came into force May 2005.

Among the areas to be addressed is the development of a “consensus understanding among the participating nations regarding a worst-case discharge and the means for effectively combatting it’, according to the IMO statement.

Improving regional cooperation is a priority as well.

The ongoing forum is taking place at Police Headquarters and is being hosted by the Ministry of the Environment, and runs through Dec 9.  Guardian Business was told the technical sessions were closed to the media.

The USA has funded three delegates and will be providing the bulk of the subject matter experts.  The IMO is funding two delegates from Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico, with each participating country sending additional participants and funding.  It expected about 29 participants ahead of the beginning of the conference.

Contingency plans aside, Duncombe hopes there will be no drilling in The Bahamas.  In this country and across the region, she says it’s time to change the focus from oil production and mitigating its negative side effects to utilizing clean, renewable energy sources.

For now, that discussion may be more theoretical than pragmatic, as a drilling rig, the Scarabeo 9, now makes its way to Cuba’s Jaguey prospect off the north coast of Havana.  By next month, the Spanish oil explorer Repsol could begin drilling a 5,600 feet deep well in a fast-flowing area of the Gulf Stream there.

In Jamaica, Sagres Energy, a Canadian oil exploration company, recently announced plans to drill some 120 kilometers off the coast of Port Kaiser.  Jamaica’s Gleaner reported in November that Sagres intended to start drilling by the end of this year.

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