Former Minister of the Environment Romauld Ferreira said yesterday it is incidents like yesterday’s massive oil leak in Great Exuma that prompted him to push for harsher penalties under the Environmental Planning And Protection Act.
Under the act, which was enacted in 2019, anyone who emits or discharges any pollutant into a water resource can face a fine proportionate to the scale of environmental damage. These fines range from $5,000 for individuals on summary charges to $30 million or jail time for indictable charges, or up to three times the assessed value of the damage caused, whichever is greater, or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or both.
“If this is Sun Oil they should be able to show you their oil spill contingency plan that’s called for in the act. They should be able to show you the plan, it should be approved by the Port Department, it should be approved by the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection and the Ministry of the Environment, which are separate entities under the law that I created,” Ferreira told Guardian Business yesterday when asked for comment on the 35,000 gallon fuel leak at the Old Navy Base on Great Exuma.
“That document would have a response time, but they should be there cleaning that up now before high tide. So if they don’t do it now then they would have effectively done it too late. And there are penalties assessed by the department and the minister. The penalties would attract up to $30 million, which is significant considering it used to be $5,000. The key is they have a time limit.”
The good thing, Ferreira said, is that the pollutant is diesel fuel, which floats and may be easier to remediate that a more dense bunker c fuel.
“Because it’s not bunker c, it’s not going to sink to the bottom in that way, but what it will do is make that whole water column toxic. Because you have the diesel and then you have a mixing zone of oil and water where nothing can live. So anything in that is going to die. And this is the marine impact of having a diesel spill in a harbor area,” he said.
“There may not be any coral there, it’s not an environmentally significant area. It also appears to be a port area, where they offload things regularly. But the thing is with the cleanup, because it’s diesel you have to act quickly, you can’t wait because it will wash out in the high tide.”
Ferreira said the incident drives home the message that The Bahamas needs to move more quickly toward renewable forms of energy.
“With renewables you eliminate this risk altogether. You have the tanker loading diesel to go to a diesel burning power station to produce energy for Exuma, when Exuma is sitting on the Tropic of Cancer and has some of the most intense and productive periods of sunlight energy on the planet. That’s the irony of it. And BPL has no solar installation on Exuma. So there is an irony there, and it would be right for it,” he said.