Friday, June 18, 2010

Weather conditions will keep Gulf oil spill from The Bahamas for now

Weather 'will keep oil spill from the Bahamas for now'
Tribune Staff Reporter

EVEN as the southern border of the surface slick emanating from the Gulf oil spill reaches south of Tampa on the western coast of Florida, weather experts say conditions will keep the oil from beginning to head in the direction of the Bahamas for "at least another four or five days" at the earliest.

"Fortunately it seems as though the God of nature has been smiling on us for some time. The wind patterns do not lend support to anything moving towards our area, so from a weather perspective we've been really fortunate. For the next four or five days we don't see anything of concern, but we've still got to be vigilant," said Mike Stubbs, chief climatological officer at the Bahamas Meteorological Department.

However, this bit of good news has not stopped the government and environmental organisations and agencies in the Bahamas preparing for the worst. Calls for volunteers made by the government and groups like the Bahamas National Trust, the Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Earth in Abaco have resulted in hundreds of people throughout the archipelago expressing their willingness to get involved in clean-up efforts should the oil begin to impact Bahamian shores, according to Minister of the Environment Earl Deveaux.

"From what I've seen personally, there are 500 people who have offered to help (in New Providence alone)," said Mr Deveaux, after personally putting out a call for volunteers just over a week ago.

Plans are in place to run training programmes on safe oil clean-up practices for the volunteers at the Royal Bahamas Defence Force base. When this training will commence depends on evidence being in place to provide a "higher degree of certainty" that the oil is set to enter Bahamian waters imminently, so as not to waste resources, said Mr Deveaux.

Bahamian officials are receiving daily briefings on the position of the oil slick emanating from the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent massive oil spill. At present, the oil remains within the Gulf of Mexico, although the Bahamas is not alone within the Caribbean in fearing that the oil will hit the "loop current" and head towards its shores.

"Each day we get report from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). There are two sources, NOAA and the Roff Report, which is a simulation of the eddy currents and the best model that we are advised is out there. It's used widely by mariners. They overlay that with the spill and that establishes where it is," said Mr Deveaux.

Meanwhile, the government, through the Meteorological Office, is liaising with scientists at the University of Miami who are also keeping a watch on the spreading oil. "They will tell us when it shows signs of having reached Key West, and at that stage they estimate it will be a week before Cay Sal gets it," said Mr Deveaux.

"That will be our indicator to mobilise in Cay Sal, and then we have so many days before we need to mobilise in Bimini and so many days from there to mobilise in Grand Bahama," said Mr Deveaux.

A study conducted earlier this month in the Bahamas by the International Maritime Organisation helped the government determine what equipment it will likely need to carry out the clean-up operation, including gloves and shovels for collecting the "tar balls" that are likely to reach Bahamian shores, and which areas are likely to be worst affected.

Mr Deveaux said that "through our contacts with BP", the British Company - which was leasing the oil rig at the time of the explosion - has indicated that it will provide funding for the clean-up equipment. However, given that this may be a slow process the government is willing to go ahead with purchasing the equipment and seeking later reimbursement if necessary.

"We have money in the NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) account to do that. We're not going to wait," he said.

Mr Deveaux added that the Bahamas will not ultimately be seeking compensation for the oil spill through the United States government or under any other international conventions, but from BP directly or "the British" since the company is of British origin.

He was responding to a report by the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency, which described one of the "challenges" for the Caribbean countries that may be affected by the spill as the fact that none of the "main liability and compensatory regimes" available under international conventions address spills from underwater wells, but rather "from tankers and spills of heavy bunker fuels from non-tankers, shipping accidents involving hazardous and noxious substances or spills from ocean-going shipping."

BP has repeatedly said it would pay all legitimate claims for compensation, but has not defined "legitimate."

From the Caribbean's perspective, the major acknowledged threats to the region from the spill include damage from tar balls reaching the shorelines and the possibility of hydrocarbon poisoning of birds and fish that migrate between the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

US President Barack Obama said Wednesday that BP will place $20 billion in a fund to compensate victims of the spill, with the money to be set aside to insure the oil giant meets its obligations.

It is not clear if this funding, which will not be administered by BP, will only be for US-based victims. Mr Obama said the fund would not supersede the rights of individuals or states to sue BP.

Anyone who wishes to volunteer for the local clean-up should contact the Bahamas National Trust, the Nature Conservancy or Friends of the Earth.

June 17, 2010