Activists slam BPC director as 'downright wrong' on oil

By YOURI KEMP

Tribune Business Reporter

ykemp@tribunemedia.net

Environmental activists yesterday said a Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) director's criticism of legal efforts to halt its oil exploration plans as "downright wrong" and "a false equivalence".

Joseph Darville, chairman of Save The Bays, said it was "difficult to know where to begin" in responding to former Central Bank governor and minister of state for finance, James Smith, because "there are so many things wrong" with his comments.

"I will not say he is being disingenuous or intentionally misleading, but as a director of a company proposing to undertake the extremely dangerous action of drilling into our sea-floor in search of oil, he does seem to be shockingly uninformed," Mr Darville added.

He hit out after Mr Smith told Tribune Business that the threat of legal action by the Our Islands, Our Future coalition and its allies to block BPC's proposal "doesn't sit well with me".

The former finance minister argued that with tourism "collapsing, and the economy tanking" as a result of COVID-19, there was "even more reason" to allow BPC to proceed with its exploratory well drilling and determine whether commercial quantities of oil exist that could benefit the Bahamian people.

Saying that he nevertheless "understood" environmental concerns over BPC's plans, the ex-Central Bank governor and finance minister also questioned why the threatened Judicial Review and injunction bid had singled out the explorer rather than all oil-related activities in The Bahamas.

Pointing out that tankers were moving through Bahamian waters every day, and sometimes offloading their cargos at the Buckeye (former BORCO) and South Riding Point terminals in Grand Bahama, as well as at Bahamas Power & Light's (BPL) facilities, Mr Smith argued that these activities presented a greater risk of a spill than BPC's exploratory, non-production Perseverance One well.

Mr Darville, though, countered: “Smith uses the trick of choice for BPC directors nowadays: Why complain about drilling when there are other oil-related activities taking place in the country?

“While Save The Bays certainly opposes the transportation of petrochemicals through our waters, the argument that since we already face some level of danger, we might as well go ahead and increase it exponentially, is ridiculous on the face of it. Furthermore, Smith is drawing a false equivalence, comparing apples and oranges, as the level of danger in what BPC is proposing utterly dwarfs any tanker accident imaginable."

Mr Darville added: “The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster spewed around 200m gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The vast majority of tankers in operation today carry between 15m and 25m gallons at full capacity.

"This means that, at minimum, eight to thirteen of these massive vessels would have to suffer a catastrophic accident and spew their entire contents into the sea – all at the same time – in order to replicate the impact of a major spill from an offshore drill site.”

Mr Darville also said: “Smith’s suggestion that these tankers present a greater spill risk is misleading in the extreme. It is just downright wrong. The Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster led to a massive stretch of ocean (15,300 square miles) – an area nearly three times' the size of the entire Bahamas (5,358 square miles) – being covered by toxic chemical sludge. The worst possible tanker disaster would not even come close. All spills are very bad, but not all spills are equal.

“Perhaps most frightening is Smith’s suggestion that we shouldn’t worry about the drill project, as it is nothing more than an exploratory well. Can this BPC director really not be aware that the Deepwater Horizon disaster was also 'just' an exploratory well? Can he not know that exploratory wells are among the most dangerous of all the petrochemical disasters waiting to happen?

“The truth is that there is no such thing as safe oil drilling, and we have too much to lose in this country to bet everything on a roll of the dice. Our economy is totally dependent upon industries derived from the beauty and abundance of our fragile marine environment," Mr Darville added.

“Nothing about the BPC deal suggests it will even come close to providing us with an alternative; certainly not with oil prices crashing and the world moving further away from fossil fuels by the day. Certainly not in a country that is among the most vulnerable on the planet to the ravages of climate change, which the oil industry is largely responsible for.”