Judge to hear oil drilling case today

A Supreme Court judge will today hear both sides on the matter involving whether Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) should be allowed to proceed with its exploratory oil drilling.

This comes after Justice Petra Hanna-Adderley stated that under the relevant court rule, an oral hearing must in fact take place if a judge is minded to refuse leave for judicial review.

Attorneys representing environmental groups Waterkeeper Bahamas Ltd. and Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay filed an action earlier this month seeking to stop the controversial project.

On Thursday, Hanna-Adderley denied three of their applications after determining that they were not brought within the time stipulated by the court rule.

However, Fred Smith, QC, who represents the environmental groups, argued that before her decision could be made, an oral hearing must first take place.

On Saturday, Hanna-Adderley said Smith was in fact correct and determined that both sides would make their arguments on the applications today.

BPC and its subsidiary, Bahamas Offshore Petroleum Limited, are not parties to the application.

The judge indicated that should leave be granted to the applicants to apply for judicial review on all or any of the decisions made in respect of the matter, the summons filed by BPC on December 10 to be joined as a party will be heard on January 6 at 10 a.m.

The applicants are seeking leave to bring judicial review proceedings against the government’s decisions to authorize the drilling of Perseverance #1 well near the Cay Sal Bank in the southwestern waters of The Bahamas.

They submit that the decision to approve the authorization for drilling was procedurally unfair, irrational, an abuse of power and therefore unlawful.

The Stena IceMAX has already commenced drilling, according to BPC, and is located 90 miles west of Andros.

BPC said it is targeting oil resources of .77 billion barrels with an upside of 1.44 billion barrels.

On Thursday, Smith had asked that as the court proceedings continue that the BPC’s legal team halt what he called “a rush to drill”.

However, BPC’s lead counsel on the matter, Clare Montgomery, QC, said “it is quite impossible for the exploration that is underway to be stopped in a meaningful sense”.

Montgomery said that was the basis of her team’s objection for the application of a stay. 

She added, “There is a very detailed explanation as to why, now that drilling is underway, that it is impossible to halt it.”

Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira is named as the first respondent in the matter.

Director of Environmental Protection and Planning Rochelle Newbold is named as the second respondent and the attorney general (in a representative capacity) is listed as the third respondent.

Waterkeeper Bahamas Ltd. and Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay seek to challenge several decisions in relation to this matter, among them the environment minister’s decision in February 2020 to grant BPC environmental authorization; the decision in November 2020 to approve changes to the project and a decision in November 2020 to issue a new environmental authorization.

The applicants also seek to challenge the director’s decision in February 2020 to approve BPC’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) and environmental management plan (EMP); the director’s November 2020 decision to approve the amended resubmitted EIA and/or the decision in November 2020 to approve the changes to the project without an amended EIA and EMP.

In addition, the applicants seek to challenge the decisions by the governor general in April 2020 to renew or extend the validity of the licenses of BPC/BOP (Bahamas Offshore Petroleum Limited) to December 2020; the decision in August 2020 to renew or extend the validity of the licenses to April 2021 and the November 2020 decision to renew or re-extend the validity of BPC’s licenses to June 2021.

The environmental groups fear potential damage to the country’s marine environment if there is a leak or spill.

In a statement last week, BPC Chief Executive Officer Simon Potter said the well will be drilled to the highest environmental and safety standards.

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Kyle Walkine

Kyle started with The Nassau Guardian in June 2014 as a broadcast reporter. He began anchoring the newscast four months later. Kyle began writing national news and feature stories in 2016. He covers a wide range of national stories. He previously worked as a reporter at Jones Communications. Education: College of The Bahamas, Bachelor Media

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