By FARRAH JOHNSON, The Tribune
A HOST of environmental groups have formed an alliance to appeal to the government to reject moves for offshore drilling and to abandon the planned Oban oil refinery in Grand Bahama.
Non-profit organisation Save the Bays (STB), along with the newly formed Environmental Alliance (EA) are pleading with the government to consider the impact oil drilling would have on the marine ecosystem.
Environmental Alliance makes representation for environmental advocacy groups including Bahamas 350 Climate Action, Bahamas Plastics Movement, reEarth, Raising Awareness Bahamas Landfill (RABL), Rise Bahamas, and the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF).
Save the Bays chairman Joseph Darville said the government runs the risk of becoming “an enemy of the environment”, if they carry on with their current habits regarding fossil fuels.
He questioned whether the FNM administration has lived up to its pre-election promises in a press statement, in which he criticized several upcoming projects he predicts will prolong the country’s dependence on petroleum products.
“The Oban oil refinery in Grand Bahama, an LNG plant at Clifton – instead of moving us away from dangerous, polluting petroleum products, this government seems to be entrenching The Bahamas in a long-term reliance on the curse of fossil fuels. This is the opposite of what Dr Minnis and his colleagues said on the campaign trail,” he said.
“I sincerely hope that this new proposal for offshore drilling in our precious waters is outright rejected. If not, this FNM government, despite all of its promises, could end up going down in history as yet another administration that turned out to be an enemy of the environment,” Mr Darville continued.
While the STB chairman commended the FNM for announcing a ban on single-use plastics, Mr Darville said there is still grave concern for the government’s inability to present a “credible plan for transitioning to renewables”.
“Environmentalists understand and accept the need for new projects,” he said, “in particular those that will create employment opportunities, but development must be pursued both responsibly and progressively, with an eye to creating the kind of society future generations of Bahamians would be proud to live in.”
Mr Darville insisted the government should decline the Oban deal, due to the major risk it poses on the marine ecosystem of East Grand Bahama.
He added the government should not grant any licences for offshore oil drilling, because it could be the “death knell” for the marine environment.
The chairman also called for the reversal of the Clifton LNG power plant deal asserting the area needs “remediation” rather than “further development”.
The Environmental Alliance echoed these sentiments in their open letter to Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis. The group called on the FNM administration to address pressing environmental, social, and transparency issues that have produced environmental concerns.
Explaining their mission is to ensure the government “rejects and discontinues” projects that have the potential to harm the Bahamian ecosystem, the group described themselves as advocates of “comprehensive environmental protection legislation.”
In this light, EA are calling on the government to address: “Air emissions, the handling and process of wastewater, the handling of hazardous materials and waste, the contamination of groundwater and the water lens, the impact to seabed, corals, mangroves and fisheries, noise from operating machinery, the potential impacts to biodiversity and ecosystem services, and the impacts on The Bahamas’ ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”
The letter is also appealing for the government to speak to “working conditions of employees at plant, the access to management jobs of the Bahamian work force, a long term economic viability of the project, minimal penalties for environmental damage, and the expense and delay of recourse to civil proceedings for redress.”
In terms of transparency, the EA is requesting that the FNM address: “The failure to hold prior consultation with stakeholders, failure to follow the process set out in our laws, failure to commission an EIA prior to signing of the agreement, provision to allow project to proceed notwithstanding EIA, policy implications, as The Bahamas has several national policies and international agreements it has signed on to, and finally, the impacts to existing multilateral environmental agreements.”
EA questioned how the proposed Oban project will fall in line with environmental safety, and insisted that the government reveal the “social benefits for those immediately impacted, the economic viability, the full operational compliance with Bahamian legislation, government adherence to any ensuing court orders, as well as the alignment with the National Development Plan which seeks to take our nation to an environmentally and economically sustainable future”.