Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) Executive Director Casuarina McKinney-Lambert yesterday called on the government to publicize the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the Oban Energies deal before a heads of agreement is renegotiated next month.
“I would say that, given the magnitude of this proposed project and the huge potential environmental impact, it is absolutely essential that the impacts are evaluated very carefully and with full transparency,” McKinney-Lambert said.
“It is due to the massive environmental impacts of oil refineries that there has not been a large refinery built in the U.S. since 1977.”
She added: “I would say that a thorough review of the EIA by multiple experts with different perspectives is vital to avoid the deterioration of Bahamian ecosystems.”
In February, the government signed an agreement with Oban Energies for a $5.5 billion oil refinery and storage facility project in East Grand Bahama.
The agreement was signed without an EIA in place – a major point of contention for environmentalists and others.
The current heads of agreement with Oban states that the government does not have an option to kill the deal based on anything the EIA concludes, but must work with Oban to address any concerns raised by the study.
Labour Minister Dion Foulkes, who chairs Cabinet’s subcommittee charged with examining the deal, said yesterday the government will not release the EIA before amending the heads of agreement for the deal.
But McKinney-Lambert said, “This makes no sense at all. There needs to be an opportunity for public consultation and for [a] review of the EIA.”
She said the proposed oil refinery is “a highly polluting industry that puts Bahamian lives and livelihoods at risk”.
“Sensitive and valuable ecosystems, species and national parks would be threatened, [and] by welcoming an industry that is notoriously polluting, we would be potentially damaging the Bahamian tourism product,” McKinney-Lambert said.
The government’s negotiating team is expected to meet with Oban’s principals on January 7, according to Foulkes.
Foulkes said “there are many provisions of the heads of agreement” that the government wants to change, but he declined to specify what those provisions were.
In August, Foulkes said the government hoped to increase the environmental protections in its amended heads of agreement with Oban.
“We also want to increase the environmental protection, which is one of the big issues, and the prime minister said this in his communication in the House of Assembly,” he said.
“There are some legal provisions that we want to revisit to make it stronger, in terms of the government’s ability to enforce the heads of agreement.”