Johnson says he tried to get govt out of oil drilling agreement

Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Elsworth Johnson said yesterday that he tried everything he could to get the government out of an agreement with Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC), which is scheduled to begin drilling an exploratory well in Bahamian waters this month.

“We got all this oil drilling going on now,” Johnson said in the House of Assembly.

“I can tell you the prime minister said he doesn’t support it. I was at the AG’s office and I did every contortion that I possible could legally, without being illegal, but somebody drafted that tight.

“After we did all the legal contortions to stay within the bounds of the law, we said let’s get some other QCs, no pun intended, to look at this agreement. It was drafted tight.”

Johnson is a former minister of state for legal affairs.

Last week, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis declared that he is “totally against” oil drilling in Bahamian waters.

“…If we could’ve gotten out of it, believe me, I am totally against drilling for oil in our waters,” he told reporters.

After receiving an environmental authorization from the Minnis administration back in February, BPC pushed ahead with its controversial plans for the exploratory drilling.

The drillship Stena IceMAX has already arrived in The Bahamas.

However, environmental groups Waterkeeper Bahamas Ltd. and Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay (Save the Bays) filed an injunction in the Supreme Court last week seeking a judicial review of the government’s decision to authorize the drilling. The groups are also seeking an injunction to block the exploratory exercise while the review takes place. 

While the Supreme Court has not yet heard the matter, drilling is scheduled to start 90 miles west of Andros.

BPC, which initially received licenses from the Bahamas government over a decade ago, has had several extensions granted.

It insists its planned exercise is indeed lawful, saying in a statement that it believes the environmentalists’ case is without “legal basis or merit”.

Last week, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the government’s lawyers are set to challenge the environmental group’s bid to stop the exploratory oil drilling.

Back in August when BPC released a statement announcing an extension granted by the government, it said The Bahamas government formally notified BPC that it would have until mid-April to begin the drilling of its first-ever well.

COVID-19 was identified as the force majeure [unforeseeable event] that prevented BPC from drilling sooner.

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Rachel Scott

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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