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Group protests oil drilling

Around 40 concerned citizens on Saturday staged a quiet protest against Bahamas Petroleum Company’s (BPC) exploratory oil drilling set to take place any day now near Cay Sal Bank.

The peaceful protest, organized by prominent Bahamian eco-activists Sam Duncombe and Heather Carey, took place between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Protestors parked their cars in the grassy strip on the north side of John F. Kennedy Drive in New Providence and held placards cautioning against oil drilling in Bahamian waters.

“I’m really concerned about what is happening in our country, the ill regard for our environment,” said protestor, Julie Benjamin. 

“There has to be a way that we can prevent this oil drill from happening because there is no such thing as ‘we can’t do anything’.

“This is the future of our country and our children and our grandchildren. What’s going to be left here for them? We think we’re having it bad now; just wait ‘til there’s an oil spill and then what?”

Just a few yards away from Benjamin stood eight-year-old Samari Brown; the poster she held was nearly bigger than her body.

“I’m protesting to save the animals and to tell [the government] not to do it,” she said.

Samari’s presence on Saturday put a face to the name of the future generation of Bahamians, hitting home for fellow protestors and passing drivers who honked their horns in apparent support. 

When asked why she was protesting, Samari’s mother Danielle Brown followed up on her daughter’s statement.

“Basically, for the same things she said, for the animals and for stopping the pollution, number one,” she said. 

“We’re also in a climate and an environment where we could be underwater at any time, so oil needs to be stopped.”

Environmental groups Waterkeeper Bahamas Ltd. and the Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay (Save the Bays) filed an injunction in the Supreme Court nearly two weeks ago seeking a judicial review of the government’s decision to authorize the drilling of the exploratory Perseverance #1 oil well.

Duncombe noted that many people are awaiting the outcome of that matter.

Speaking for the planet

Alexis Bethel, another protestor, said that, upon learning of the government’s plan to go ahead with oil drilling, she felt “kind of shocked, kind of not shocked”. 

“I just feel like all over the world, we’re not learning our lesson,” she said.

Bethel is one of many Bahamians who marched in 2016 and 2017 with the We March movement, a grouping of civic-minded individuals, many of whom were concerned about myriad issues, including the need for a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to be passed and enacted.

Bethel was among those wanting more freedom of information, but while an act was passed not long before the last election, it has still not been fully enacted, a source of disappointment for many.

Bethel said that she has heard that the government can’t get out of the deal with BPC because “the economic ramifications would be worse than COVID”.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said recently that he is completely against oil drilling, but his administration could not legally get out of the deal. BPC secured licenses under the first Christie administration and has had several extensions ever since.

But the licensing agreements are not in the public domain, something many people have taken issue with.

The attorney general told The Nassau Guardian last week that they are not public documents, but if required to, the government would make them public as a part of the court case initiated by the environmental groups.

Ahead of the 2012 general election, then-Progressive Liberal Party Leader Perry Christie had promised a referendum on oil drilling, but no such referendum took place after the PLP was elected.

Some Bahamians still want a referendum.

Benjamin’s sister-in-law, also named Julie Benjamin, said: “Before the government allows anything like that, they should put a referendum to the people; that’s all I’ve got to say”.

Protestor Ruth Cleece said she was protesting because the earth can’t speak for itself.

“We have to do that for it,” Cleece said. 

“The planet can’t talk, but it can tell us, it’s been telling us for decades now that it’s in trouble. It’s about time that we start to listen and act.” 

Before the protest began, Duncombe pointed to a letter a group of US Congressman wrote Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis on Thursday expressing opposition to BPC’s offshore drilling project, which is a mere 150 miles from South Florida.

The letter urges The Bahamas to reconsider allowing the BPC drilling project to continue, given the immediate and long-term impact they say an oil spill and carbon emissions would have on natural ecosystems, local economies and the global climate crisis.

“We believe you should reconsider the agreement established between your government and BPC to protect the beauty and longevity of our fragile and shared ecosystems, the economies that depend on them, and the future of our planet,” the letter read.

“We stand ready to work with your government to fight the climate crisis, a looming mass-extinction event, and oil and gas interests that seek only to profit off activities that truly put our respective communities at great risk.”

Dr. Adelle Thomas, director of the Climate Change Adaption and Resilience Research Center at The University of The Bahamas, said it provided some hope to see the letter come out, but then she went on Facebook and started looking at comments.

“People are like, the US itself is being hypocritical,” she said.

Many Bahamians hold the shared opinion that the profitability of commercially available quantities of oil would not outweigh the peril of a potential oil spill.

Thomas, who also attended the protest, is one of them.

When asked to share her initial reaction to discovering that the government will permit exploratory oil drilling in The Bahamas, Thomas explained, “I thought it was very shortsighted by the government to pursue something like oil drilling, knowing our vulnerability to climate change and that this will add to it, but at least I’m glad there are things like this to bring awareness, so it’s not just like it has to happen, because it doesn’t have to happen.”

Duncombe, meanwhile, said the fight against oil drilling must continue.

“Please keep spreading the word,” she said. “It’s not over.”

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Emma Van Wynen

Emma Van Wynen joined The Nassau Guardian in November 2020. Emma covers community features and hard news. Education: Tulane University in New Orleans, BA in English and Music with a concentration in creative writing.

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