Save The Bays, the environmental group that recently secured leave for a judicial review into government’s decision to allow Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) to proceed with drilling an exploratory oil well in Bahamian waters, has condemned BPC CEO Simon Potter’s “flippant” response to “the very serious revelation” that his company has not yet fulfilled its license fee obligation to the people of The Bahamas.
On Friday, Tribune Business reported that BPC had warned against “making mountains out of molehills” after it was revealed the government had refused to accept its payment of outstanding licence fees.
According to the article that ran on Friday, Attorney General Carl Bethel disclosed that the two parties were now engaged in a “reconciliation process” to resolve the dispute over how much the oil explorer owes to the Public Treasury.
“They’ve sent the money, sent a check, but we’ve not accepted it,” Bethel was reported as saying. “They’ve tendered what they say the amount is, but we don’t agree. We’re now engaged in discussions that we call a reconciliation.”
Potter is quoted as saying the “reconciliation” was “a basic, auditable business practice” that involves “a comparatively minor amount” of monies.
“For anything to be suggested beyond this is little more than another instance of those who might be opposed to BPC’s lawful activities seeking to make mountains out of molehills by misrepresenting what are basic business matters and practices,” Potter said.
“BPC has held its licences in The Bahamas since 2007, and has paid licence fees to the government since that time, which in aggregate amount to millions of dollars.
“As is the case in any business setting, there is a normal process whereby fees payable by BPC to government are checked, reconciled and audited for correctness — most especially for a publicly-listed company such as BPC, where such payments have to be clearly and transparently accounted for.”
But Save The Bays, through its chairman Joseph Darville, said, as usual Potter seeks to downplay any and all concerns raised about BPC’s behavior, which remains extremely worrying on a number of fronts.
“He can dismiss the matter all he wants,” Darville said in a statement. “The fact is, in the environmental approval granted by the government to BPC back in February 2020, without which the company could not have lawfully begun exploratory drilling, the minister of environment informed the company that it must pay all outstanding licence fees through the end of 2020 within 60 days.
“The attorney general of The Bahamas has now revealed that almost one full year later, BPC has still not fulfilled this obligation, remaining in breach of the 60-day deadline for months. And yet it raced ahead to begin drilling in the face of what it knew was mounting local concern, including notice that a court case to review the issuance of that very same environmental approval was going to be filed.”
BPC started drilling its exploratory well 90 miles off Andros late last month.
Darville said yesterday, “Having rushed to start the drilling, the company then incredibly claimed that once begin, it was too dangerous to stop.”
He added that BPC’s behavior has not gone unnoticed by the Bahamian people.
Darville also railed against a comment attributed to BPC shareholder James Smith that resistance to the former oil company by locals is futile.
“Who do they think they are talking to?” the STB chairman questioned. “This is a sovereign nation of laws, and we cannot and will not be bullied in this manner.”
Smith said in a Tribune Business article on Thursday that BPC’s exploratory well was “too far gone” for environmental activists to halt it.
Save The Bay is calling on BPC to fully reveal details on the matter of the outstanding fee payment.
“Simon Potter says there is a minuscule amount of funds not yet paid,” Darville noted. “Precisely how much would that be? He claims that BPC has paid millions in licensing fees over the years. According to the terms of their own license, they should’ve paid an excess of $10 million by now. They must now confirm how much they actually paid.”
Darville added, “The Bahamian people will not be taken for fools. BPC must reveal the precise state of it dealings with the government regarding any and all licensing fees, or be forced to do so by the authorities.”
Save The Bays has named the government as a respondent in its court action filed in December. BPC is seeking to be joined as a party to the action.