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Environmentalists say ban oil drilling now that licenses expired

The Nassau Guardian Paige McCartney

Darville: I am angry that the government cannot be more decisive on this issue.

Environmentalists yesterday said now that the oil drilling licenses of Challenger Energy Group (formerly Bahamas Petroleum Company) have expired, the government must take a definitive stance on banning all oil drilling in The Bahamas. Environmentalist and Save the Bays Chairman Joseph Darville said it isn’t enough that the government has said it will not move forward with anything involving Challenger’s four southern licenses to explore and drill for oil until it has paid outstanding license fees. He and Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) Executive Director Casuarina McKinney-Lambert said the government must commit to not approving any future oil drilling licenses. “I compare it to the competent authority. If he can suspend the civil liberties that we can enjoy under the constitution, why in God’s name cannot this government, this prime minister, say decisively that we will not allow drilling of oil in our waters, period. That we will not honor any licenses that have been expired or any that may be applied for in the future. We need that decision to be made. This dilly-dallying around just makes us look like some weak third world country that is still subjected to foreign pirates,” Darville said in an interview with Guardian Business. “I am getting annoyed and angry that my government who I voted for cannot be more decisive about this particular situation. The prime minister, as far as I know, 90 percent of his Cabinet have come out unequivocally opposed to the drilling of oil in the archipelagic nation of The Bahamas, so that should be it, case closed. Tourism is coming back based on the fact that we have the cleanest air, the best ocean in the world and we can’t risk that.” McKinney-Lambert in a separate communication with Guardian Business said, “The whole world is moving away from fossil fuels and especially away from exploration or extraction in new and/or pristine areas. “It would be madness to allow a renewal of the oil exploration licenses in The Bahamas. We appreciate the government’s position that this wouldn’t even be considered at this time given the outstanding payments from previous exploration periods. A full ban on oil drilling in Bahamian waters is the way forward.” The Ministry of the Environment confirmed earlier this week that the oil licenses expired on June 30. Challenger, while it was still BPC, said earlier this year that it applied for an extension of the licenses for an additional three-year “drill or drop” exploration period. Last month, Minister of the Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira said the government was inclined to reject the oil explorer’s application to extend the licenses until it pays its outstanding fees. “I still cannot understand the ambivalence with which the government is looking at this whole situation. The fact is that they seem to be predicating the possibility of redoing the licenses based upon whether this company pays the almost $2 million which is owing, which is actually related to licenses that have expired. It is absolutely confusing,” Darville said yesterday. “As a sovereign nation, if that company owes us $1.9 million then we need to go the legal route to get the money that is owed to us. We are a sovereign, independent nation and we should not be dilly-dallying around with a foreign entity who seems to hold us over the cliff. That is not a way that I want my government to function as a sovereign nation.” The government has maintained that the fees have accumulated to more than $1.9 million as of last year and an additional $1 million fee is owed for this year. Earlier this week, environmental group Our Island, Our Future through the Freedom of Information Act asked for a full and public accounting of all fees, fines, or related revenues paid to the government of The Bahamas.

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