The Nassau Guardian
By: Travis Cartwright-Carroll
The Bahamas National Citizens Coalition (BNCC) has filed an action in the Supreme Court seeking to block the minister of the environment and housing from issuing or renewing any oil exploration licenses.
The coalition also wants the court to restrain Bahamas Offshore Petroleum Limited and Island Petroleum Limited, both subsidiaries of Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC), “from operating or using such licenses” until the proper regulatory framework is put in place to govern the sector.
Last month, the government renewed BPC’s five exploration licenses for another three years.
BPC wants government approval to drill an oil well in Bahamian waters.
The BNCC claims that the minister of the environment and housing acted ultra vires of the Petroleum Act 14(2) by “granting and renewing oil exploration licenses” to BPC and its subsidiaries.
In a copy of the coalition’s originating summons, it states that it is seeking, “A declaration that the minister of the environment and housing has acted prematurely and with procedural impropriety in granting licenses to the aforesaid companies, so as to allow them to commence oil drilling without a modern and proper oil exploration and environmental regulatory framework in place for the ultimate protection of the applicants and the wider Bahamian public in the case of oil spills, etc.”
The coalition also wants, “A declaration that the minister of the environment and housing has failed to provide the applicants and the Bahamian public with copies of the license agreements of associated agreements with respect to the exploratory oil drilling to be conducted by Bahamas Petroleum Company Plc and/or its subsidiaries.”
According to the Petroleum Act 14(2), “A company may be granted a license or lease severally or jointly with another company: Provided that a license or lease shall not be granted to a company which is a member of, or is directly or indirectly owned or controlled by, another company to which a license or lease has already been granted under this Act or which is itself applying for such a licence or lease.”
The coalition states that it represents the views of more than 30,000 members and only wishes to secure the best possible benefits for the Bahamian people through meaningful and positive discussions with the government and the companies it has to negotiate with concerning oil exploration in The Bahamas.
The minister of the environment and housing, Bahamas Offshore Petroleum Limited, BPC and Island Offshore Company Limited are listed as the respondents in the action.
The coalition filed the summons and an affidavit on July 29.
“The coalition is deeply concerned that the government is making critical decisions regarding oil exploration and harvesting without seeking the views of the Bahamian people,” the affidavit stated.
“It is clear from the actions of the government that it has set a precedent with the Constitutional Commission whereby it held numerous public forums and gathered the views of Bahamians.
“The commission’s chairman then used such information to prepare a public report for consideration by the government in its preparations for a national referendum on constitutional reform.
“Why is it that the government is not taking the same approach in advance of the draft legislation and referendum on oil exploration and harvesting?”
The BCC, Police Staff Association, the Bahamas Public Service Union, the Prison Officers Association, the Bahamas Communications and Public Officers Union, the National Workers Health Plan Trust, the Moore’s Island Fisherman Association and the Exuma Citizens and Fisherman Association are listed as members of the coalition.
Minister of the Environment and Housing Kenred Dorsett previously said he expects the government to have completed oil drilling legislation and regulations by the end of the year.
He said the legal framework for oil drilling was still being worked on by his ministry’s external consultants along with officials from the Office of the Attorney General.
Dorsett recently indicated that BPC will not be permitted to drill any exploratory wells in Bahamian waters until the regulations that will oversee the industry are completed.
BPC has invested $50 million in the country, with most of that spent on 3D seismic testing, and has completed its environmental impact assessment (EIA). Now, the company is working on its environmental management plan (EMP) to meet its 2015 obligation to the government.
In its interim results for the first six months of 2013, BPC said it has a “clear mandate from the Government of The Bahamas to proceed with exploration drilling with an obligation to commence an exploration well by April 2015”.