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Florida senators want Bahamas, US prepared for oil spills

Urging US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to engage with Bahamian government on issue

Two United States senators are urging US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to engage with the Bahamian government to ensure that both countries are prepared to respond to any oil spill threats that may occur during any future exploratory oil drilling in Bahamian waters.

Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott said the issue is of “great importance” to Floridians.

“We urge you to engage with the Bahamian government to facilitate discussions between the United States Coast Guard, which is the primary American agency tasked with responding to maritime oil spills, and their Bahamian counterparts to ensure that our nations are prepared to respond jointly to any oil spill threats that may occur during any future exploratory oil drilling in sovereign Bahamian waters,” they wrote in an April 5 letter.

On March 24, just six weeks after announcing its first well – Perseverance #1 – failed to yield commercial quantities of oil, Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) announced its plan to secure an extension for its licenses.

This would be the third time BPC has applied to extend its licenses, this time for a three-year “drill or drop” exploration period – which means that if the company does not drill within three years, the licenses would be forfeited.

In the letter, Rubio and Scott said, “Although BPC has reportedly determined that this site is not viable for additional drilling, it is our understanding that additional leases in Bahamian waters, some just 50 miles from Florida’s shores, are still valid through 2026.

“While there are no indications of imminent drilling at these other locations, Floridians are rightly concerned by the possibility of additional oil exploration so close to Florida’s shores. Floridians are reminded of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which caused billions of dollars in harm to the economies of the Gulf States, and took an enormous toll on our coastal ecosystems and fisheries.

“The area of southern Florida closest to Bahamian waters is home to the Florida Reef Tract, the third-largest coral barrier reef in the world. This fragile ecosystem is one of the most biodiverse in the United States and is integral to the culture and economy of the Florida Keys.

“Further north, from Miami to Jacksonville, millions of Floridians live along pristine beaches and the Biscayne Bay and Indian River Lagoon estuaries, which are irreplaceable economic engines on which their livelihoods depend. All precautions and preparations to protect these critical ecosystems must be taken.”

BPC’s licenses expire in June and the company needed to apply for an extension three months before the expiration.

In March, Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Nassau Guardian that the government was scheduled to have a meeting, at which time its position on whether it will approve that application may be clearer.

When asked for an update on that matter yesterday, he said, “The minister (of environment) has his jurisdiction … but the matter is being put before Cabinet for us to discuss in light of and to consider legal advice that has been received.” 

BPC holds five exploration licenses covering approximately four million acres. The four southern licenses are located in the waters where Perseverance #1 was drilled.

BPC began drilling Perseverance #1 in December, amid a cloud of controversy, as environmental groups sought an injunction halting the project.

The company was seeking to yield at least 0.77 billion barrels of oil, however, it announced in mid-February that although hydrocarbons were found, they were not in the quantities expected.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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