Testing Shows Bahamas Oil Spill Contaminated Wetlands More Than One Mile Away

More Than 1.8 Million Gallons Spilled; Cleanup Effort Appears to be Inadequate

The Bahamas oil spill during Hurricane Dorian contaminated water in critical wetland habitat, including an area more than one mile away from the spill, according to sampling done by Waterkeepers Bahamas, Save the Bays, and Waterkeeper Alliance. 

The groups took water samples at five locations near the Equinor/STATOIL spill, sending 54 individual water samples to Environmental Chemists, a certified water testing lab in Wilmington, N.C.

The water sample analysis shows distinct petroleum constituents, including alkanes, terpenes, and organic acid. 

“These results are well beyond what would be naturally occurring,” said Christian Breen, field investigator for Waterkeeper Alliance. “The sample profile is distinct and consistent with the makeup of heavy-grade fuel oil, which is not supposed to be there.”

The affected wetlands provide a vital ocean buffer for Grand Bahama, as well as habitat for migratory birds, such as the West Indian woodpecker and red-legged thrush. The wetland also provides a critical cleansing mechanism for the island’s scarce groundwater.

Equinor, formerly known in the Bahamas as STATOIL, held 70 million gallons of oil at its storage site on Grand Bahama. Hurricane Dorian, which hit the Bahamas starting Sept. 1, blew off the tops of five oil storage tanks at the site. Save the Bays and Waterkeeper Alliance determined during a post-storm site visit that the spill thoroughly polluted the ground of at least a four-square-mile area that includes wetlands, pine forests, and mangroves. 

“We witnessed dozens of workers cleaning up the massive amount of oil at the spill site,” said Joseph Darville, Grand Bahama Coastal Waterkeeper and Chairman of Save The Bays. “There were trucks vacuuming the oil and pumping it into tank trucks. We witnessed workers knee-deep in oil. Not only are these conditions unsafe for workers, but the haphazard and superficial cleanup we witnessed will not be adequate to protect the sensitive pine forest and wetlands threatened by this spill.”

Equinor has recovered 1.8 million gallons of oil from the site, company spokesman Erik Haaland told Waterkeeper Alliance on Tuesday. 

“Freshwater is a scarcity in the Bahamas,” said Rashema Ingraham, executive director of Save the Bays and Bimini Coastal Waterkeeper. “The islands in the north are covered in pine forests, which capture rainwater in underground lenses. The pine forest near the site was completely affected by this spill. When you look at the connectivity of these ecosystems, it’s scary. My short-term concern is for the wildlife in the area, including blue crabs, fish, and native boa constrictor snakes. My long-term concern is about the safety of that freshwater supply.”

Pete Nichols, organizing director at Waterkeeper Alliance, said, “Equinor is a Norweigan company; this spill should be cleaned up to at least Norweigan standards. We call on Equinor CEO Eldar Sætre to ensure that the site is left as clean as it would be had this spill taken place behind his home in Norway.”

The environmental groups call for a comprehensive impact study to quantify the impact of the spill, to properly identify all impacted areas, and to guide remediation efforts.

Equinor agreed on Tuesday to planned monthly visits to the site from Save the Bays. The company also gave Save The Bays and Waterkeeper Bahamas a tour of the facility and impacted area earlier this month. 

A map and photos of the oil spill site, as well as Save the Bays and Waterkeeper at work in the Bahamas, can be found here.

Environmentalists Criticize Minister

By Paige McCartney, The Tribune

Environmentalists took Minister of the Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira to task yesterday for what they perceived as him making light of the oil spill in eastern Grand Bahama.

Save the Bays Chairman Joe Darville said he was shocked and astounded, while reEarth President Sam Duncombe said she was astonished, by the government’s response to the oil spill that emanated from the Equinor terminal at South Riding Point.

“I wasn’t just shocked, I was astounded by his response. Mr. Ferreira is a friend of ours, he’s worked diligently with us in our environmental cases against people who offend our environment and I could not believe it,” Darville told Guardian Business.

“I’m sure he was trying to be funny, but that came across as being crass stupidity and for that to come out of the mouth of someone over a very serious problem in that area and even though at the present time they may be addressing it expeditiously, it took them more than ten days after the storm to really dedicate any sort of cleanup of that environment.”

Darville was responding to Ferreira’s comment that three birds and one goat were impacted by the oil spill.

“To treat that in a callous way is not the way to address a catastrophic situation like that,” Darville said.

“My heart just bled for that whole environment out there and of course we stopped in High Rock, we were tracking where the oil could have come and it came 1.62 miles, we measured from Equinor into High Rock and it pooled in an area there where the seawall had fallen in and also the road.”

Duncombe added during a separate interview, “For the government to downplay this issue and make it sound like, ‘Oh it’s okay’, no there’s nothing okay about it. There’s absolutely nothing okay about it. This kind of catastrophic situation underscores the cries from environmentalists in the country that have been saying for decades we need to move away from fossil fuels, we need to look at renewable energy.”

When Category 5 storm Hurricane Dorian ripped through Grand Bahama earlier this month, the lids from a few of the holding containers which stored approximately 1.9 million barrels of crude oil blew off.

The government has said it is satisfied with the efforts made by Norwegian-based Equinor to remediate the spill, despite the company taking longer than a week to start the cleanup process.

Ferreira said so far about 6,000 barrels of oil – which equates to about 252,000 U.S. gallons – have been cleaned from the surrounding area.

Darville said the damage has already been done.

“The very first chance I had I actually went out there and had some reporters who were here from Norway, because the company comes from Norway, and they were absolutely astounded at the amount of oil that was there and so visible along the public roads, emanating out of the property at Equinor,” he said.

“From their views it’s going toward the north toward the mangroves at North Riding Point. But we could see by eye from the road 450 liters where the oil had saturated that whole area and at that point in time, our native Caribbean pine that stands about 35 feet tall, as tall as the Equinor office building, they were saturated with oil.”

Duncombe added that she doesn’t believe a spill of that magnitude could ever fully be cleaned.

“When you have that kind of oil spilling out onto the land environment, it’s going to seep down and affect the ground water. It’s going to affect all of the soil and for the communities that live around that area, you’re talking about exposure from smelling these chemicals all day which can cause nausea, headaches and longer term impacts because you’re constantly inhaling these toxic chemicals,” she said.

“The response from the government to the oil spill has been just astonishing really, because it’s almost as if they’re mollycoddling them. This is a huge environmental impact to Grand Bahama, it’s a huge impact to the water table, it’s a huge impact to the marine environment, animals in the marine environment that are coming into contact with that oil.”

Oil spill adds to list of Dorian-induced woes in Bahamas

The air smells like fuel, the ground is covered in a black paste-like substance and the residents of Grand Bahama are afraid.

After sowing mass destruction across the island, Hurricane Dorian delivered one final blow: an oil spill at the Norwegian Equinor facility.

Dozens of residents of the small town of High Rock have set up tents among the rubble that was once their homes, where they divvy up meager handouts that come their way.

They survive amid the disaster, but now, adding insult to injury, they fear that the air that they breathe and the water that they drink is not safe.

Residents say the they were given are not useful against the toxicity.

The oil is “deadly, deadly,” said Marco Roberts, 38, holding a mask and lamenting the poisoned state of his island.

“The oil is actually leaking in the water, and now you can’t bathe in the water, or you can’t drink the water. The only water we can bathe in is what you all give us,” he told AFP.

Six kilometers (four miles) away the ground is saturated with a black, thick paste.

“They need to evacuate the whole East End or come do something,” Roberts said.

At ground zero, several huge oil storage tanks are colored black by overflown oil, which has spread over a still yet to be defined section of land near the coast.

Several huge oil storage tanks are colored black by overflowing oil, which has spread over a still yet-to-be-defined section of
Several huge oil storage tanks are colored black by overflowing oil, which has spread over a still yet-to-be-defined section of land near the coast

It remains unknown if oil from the Equinor facility reached the ocean.

Equinor said in a statement “there is currently no observed leakage of oil to the sea from the South Riding Point terminal.”

However, it said “surveillance has identified potential product in 70-80 kilometers north east of the terminal within Long Point Bight close to Little Abaco Island.”

“There are also indications that the product may have impacted a section of the coastline,” it said.

The spill occurred at Equinor’s South Riding Point terminal, which has a storage capacity of 6.75 million barrels of crude and condensate.

According to Equinor, the tanks were storing 1.8 million barrels when the hurricane hit.

Normally, hurricanes blow through the Bahamas in a matter of hours.

But Dorian stalled for three days over the northern edge of the archipelago, causing widespread damage on the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco.

Environmental activist Joseph Darville said he has fought for years against the oil terminal, located along a coast that is depe
Environmental activist Joseph Darville said he has fought for years against the oil terminal, located along a coast that is dependent on tourism and fishing and whose water table is only a meter (yard) deep

Sign not to be ‘foolish’

“Before the hurricane hit, nine of our 10 tanks at the terminal had aluminium domed roofs,” said Equinor spokesman Erik Haaland. “Five of these roofs are now gone.”

Equinor said it had an “advanced onshore response team” working on site as well as more than 200 personnel focused on response around the world.

Two vessels, one of which arrived Tuesday and one slated to arrive Thursday, were to help in the effort, carrying 42 personnel and onshore oil recovery equipment.

Environmental activist Joseph Darville said he has fought for years with the NGO Waterkeepers Bahamas against the terminal, located along a coast that is dependent on tourism and fishing and whose is only a meter (yard) deep.

Darville came to the site to examine whether the spill contaminated the beach.

The ocean was calm and intensely turquoise, but the vegetation has been destroyed and strewn branches from the hurricane create a sad landscape.

He was glad to see small, recently born fish in the and thought it was a good sign for now.

Norway's Equinor said that before Hurricane Dorian hit, nine out of 10 tanks at a Bahamas terminal had domed roofs, while afterw
Norway’s Equinor said that before Hurricane Dorian hit, nine out of 10 tanks at a Bahamas terminal had domed roofs, while afterward, five more of the roofs were gone

“This is where most of all of our seafood comes from, from this area, from these magnificent coral reefs,” he said, including deep sea fish, like red snapper, grouper and lobster.

The area’s bonefish, he said, is a $7 billion industry.

Pointing to the beach, he said: “This is where they go along the shore… and spawn by the millions about three miles offshore.”

“So this is a sign to us not to be so foolish in the future,” he said.

Environmentalists Say No To Oban Plan For Oil Refinery

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”.

33 youth leaders enrolled in STB Environmental Ambassador Program

 

They trek through woods and meander through gardens with cameras and notepads in hand. They explore the undersea world and get up close with snakes and birds. They are participants in The Bahamas Youth Environmental Ambassadors (YEA) program. Sponsored by Save The Bays, the program now in its fifth year has trained more than 200 students in Grand Bahama, who are learning today to appreciate the precious and often fragile resources of The Bahamas that they pledge to respect tomorrow.

This year, 33 students are participating in the program that consistently draws more applicants than it has space to accommodate. Participants experience the variety of rich Bahamian ecosystems through first-hand experiences complete with lectures and field trips.

On two Saturdays of each month, facilitators, all of whom have secured leadership training through the Center for Creative Leadership, lead both theory and practical components allowing YEAs the opportunity to learn about these systems then explore them, conducting observatory exercises, making assessments or gathering data on human impact. The program also attracts guest lecturers, and so far the students have learned about sharks and rays in The Bahamas with lectures led by Dr. Tristan Guttridge and Michael Scholl of Save Our Seas Foundation.

For the year, expeditions included treks through Grand Bahama’s most touted green space, Gardens of The Groves; a glass-bottom sailing excursion with shark and coral reefs identification; and personal interactions with a Bahamian boa constrictor. The expeditions complemented three academic sessions that focused on the connectivity of life between animals, trees and humans; a study of sharks and rays in The Bahamas; and the pine forest ecosystem.

“When I reflect on the past five years, I could not be more satisfied with the reception of the YEA program, the enthusiasm displayed by our ambassadors and the overall support,” said Rashema Ingraham, YEA coordinator. “We are always so impressed by the growth of our students at the end of each module. By then, many of them find their voices and become advocates for the environment.”

Ingraham said the entry process is competitive.

“Each fall students are recommended by their teachers and guidance counselors. Students are then selected based on submission of two essays in which they demonstrate their understanding of the essence of Save The Bays and their knowledge of climate change and its effect on coastal communities of which The Bahamas is.”

This year’s program ends with a pinning ceremony in mid-May.

The YEA program is part of Save The Bays’ education mandate.