US members of Congress urge Minnis to reconsider oil agreement

Eighteen members of the US Congress are urging the Minnis administration to reconsider allowing Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) to drill for oil in Bahamian waters.

In a letter to Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and Minister of Environment Romauld Ferreira, the congressmen and congresswomen argue that, should BPC be allowed to drill its exploratory well of the coast of Andros, “we will be justified in fearing that the Atlantic coast is at risk of severe, even catastrophic impact from any spills that might occur”. 

“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 reads.

“As coastal and near-coastal members of Congress, we have long fought to prevent oil spills, but the success of this work is directly dependent on the co-operation of other states, our federal government, and nearby nations.”

The letter continued, “Unfortunately, we believe the agreement reached between BPC and the Bahamian government is directly contrary to the urgent call made at the United Nations just last year.

“In that speech, prime minister, you cited the contribution carbon emissions have made to the climate crisis and the devastating impacts this crisis continues to have on island nations like The Bahamas, including those wrought by Hurricane Dorian, rising sea levels, and natural barrier degradation.

“These events are felt deeply by Americans and communities around the world, and expanding offshore drilling is fundamentally against their interests.”

When Minnis addressed the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly last September, he spoke extensively on the destruction that Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm, visited on Abaco and Grand Bahama just weeks earlier. 

He joined with other global leaders “to treat the global climate emergency as the greatest challenge facing humanity”.

In their letter to Minnis, the US representatives also highlighted the “devastation and loss of life caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill”.

“That well, similar to that which BPC plans to bore, claimed 11 lives and spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, destroying whole ecosystems and halting tourism and fisheries across the region,” the letter reads.

“It has become clear that oil companies such as BPC have every intention to plow ahead despite red flags, which warn of the grave health, natural disaster, and environmental risks of drilling.

“Should BPC’s project move forward, we will be justified in fearing that the Atlantic coast is at risk of severe, even catastrophic, impact from any spills that might occur – essentially undermining the recent offshore drilling ban extension from President Trump, and future offshore drilling restrictions.

“It is unclear whether BPC has the capacity to help mitigate a serious disaster, let alone prevent one in the first place. Should a calamitous event occur, the Bahamian government and BPC’s clean-up efforts will undoubtedly require financial assistance from neighbors, including the United States, to address any spill that would spread throughout domestic and international waters.

“For perspective, Deepwater Horizon cost an estimated $65 billion to clean up and the effects have yet to be fully alleviated. What’s worse, the ship arriving on your shores to begin drilling has a track record of safety issues on previous jobs, including incidents in March 2016, September 2016, and October 2017.”

The letter added, “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.

“The health of our constituencies, oceans, and planet hinges on what actions we take here and now.”

The letter was signed by representatives Alcee Hastings (D-FL); Ted Deutch (D-FL); Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA); Kathy Castor (D-FL); Darren Soto (D-FL); Charlie Crist (D-FL); Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL); Lois Frankel (D-FL); Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY); Francis Rooney (R-FL); A. Donald McEachin (D-VA); Al Lawson (D-FL); Alan Lowenthal (D-CA); Chellie Pingree (D-ME); Abigail D. Spanberger (D-VA); David Scott (D-GA); Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), and Donna E. Shalala (D-FL).

A little over a week ago, Minnis said he is totally against oil drilling in Bahamian waters.

“Unfortunately, we were saddled with an agreement that we met there. When we discussed it with the legal department, we were advised that the commitment and everything was signed and basically we could not get out of it,” he said.

“But if we could’ve gotten out of it, believe me, I am totally against drilling for oil in our waters.”

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 was off the coast of Andros yesterday.

Environmental groups Waterkeeper Bahamas Ltd. and Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay (Save the Bays) recently filed an injunction in the Supreme Court seeking a judicial review of the government’s decision to authorize the drilling.

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

The groups are also seeking an injunction to block the exploratory exercise while the review takes place.

Responding to the onslaught of opposition, BPC stated in a press release that the groups are misinformed about the environmental threat from the company’s exploratory well.

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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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