BNT against Oban project
The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) said yesterday it cannot envisage any scenario where it would support Oban Energies’ multibillion-dollar oil refinery and storage facility set for East Grand Bahama.
In a statement, the BNT said notwithstanding what the results of Oban’s ongoing environmental impact assessment (EIA) may be, the overall risk is too great, particularly to the neighboring national parks.
The BNT, which is mandated to manage national parks throughout The Bahamas, is the latest environmental organization to articulate concerns about the controversial project.
Contending that the proposed location of the project places it in close proximity to the Lucayan National Park, the East Grand Bahama National Park, and the Gap National Park, the BNT has asked the government to make known the exact location.
It also requested other information relevant to the project from the government, including the “full heads of agreement”, and expressed a desire to weigh in on the EIA before completion.
“BNT wishes to state very clearly, however, that notwithstanding the results of the EIA, even if there are local project impacts that the Bahamas Environment, Science and Technology Commission and the government might deem acceptable if mitigated, we cannot envisage any scenario where BNT could support this project,” the environmental watchdog said.
“Whatever the specific location, this mammoth oil refinery and industrial project will be located somewhere between three ecologically important national parks.”
According to Oban’s website, the project will be located along the Northwest Providence Channel east of Freeport.
The government signed a heads of agreement with Oban on February 19.
As part of the HOA, the government does not have the right to terminate the agreement “based on any EIA report, but instead shall work with the developer to mitigate any concerns”.
That clause has sparked widespread concerns. The BNT said it hopes the government has an escape clause despite the EIA clause in the HOA.
Noting Grand Bahama’s depressed economy, the BNT said it is sensitive to the need to create jobs, but it is crucial that this is not done at the expense of the island’s, and by extension, the country’s most important asset – the environment.
“BNT is hopeful therefore that if the assessed impact of this project is determined to be unacceptable, that the government does have an escape clause to allow us to protect the environment, contrary to what has been reported in the press,” the group said.
Other environmental groups have raised concerns about the project as well.
Environmentalist Sam Duncombe, of ReEarth, said last week that instead of focusing on renewables as the government promised, the Minnis administration has signed this deal “without consultation, with egregious concessions and a change in our laws to suit the developer”.
The Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) has also said it would be “irrational and damaging for the country to move forward with this fossil fuel agenda” instead of embracing alternative energy.
The BNT asserted that the project advances the expansion of fossil fuels, one of the greatest contributors to climate change, in a country that is among the most vulnerable.
Additionally, the organization said the project is being developed in an area known to be highly susceptible to hurricanes.
“This major fossil fuel facility would quite literally increase this risk, and would mean that The Bahamas would be contributing to our own demise.
“Despite the fact that it supports significant heavy industry, the vast majority of Grand Bahama’s natural environment, especially East Grand Bahama, is still very much intact.
“As such, any development or industry needs to be carefully planned and monitored for the long-term benefit of the people, and natural environment of Grand Bahama.”
General Manager of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Country Department Caribbean Group Therese Turner-Jones said last September that the financial impact of climate change on The Bahamas could reach $19 billion by 2020, adding that major infrastructure and real estate in The Bahamas is at serious risk if the sea level rises just one meter.
The BNT said it takes its responsibility as an advisor to the government and a manager of the national park system of the country very seriously, and believes providing advice to the government requires having all relevant information to make an informed assessment of development proposals.
It said the organization only has the information being published by the media, and does not feel fully informed and able to make substantive comments.
“We are hopeful of receiving the information so that the BNT is able to provide a more informed response,” the BNT said.
The organization also outlined the primary purpose of the parks and their critical ecological benefits.
It said the Lucayan National Park, the most visited national park, protects one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world; the East Grand Bahama National Park, located south of Sweetings Cay, provides flats fishing habitats that support the local communities in East Grand Bahama; and the Gap National Park, located on the northeastern shore of Grand Bahama, consists of wetlands, tidal creeks, sand and mud flats, beach strands and rocky shores, as well as an extensive area of blue holes, which are relied upon by numerous bird species.