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Saturday, September 15, 2012
The Oil Drilling Referendum in The Bahamas ...and Pontius Pilate
ALREADY they are discussing how to share the oil wealth, even before the first vein of oil has been discovered to make the discussion relevant.
In our opinion politicians are putting the cart before the horse or, as the farm hand would say, “counting their chicks before they are hatched.”
What they should be giving serious thought to is whether they should even be playing russian roulette with the future of these islands, whose wealth lies in the extraordinary beauty of its waters, powder soft beaches and colourful marine life. One slip of the drill and our future is gone forever.
Already, the livelihood of our fishermen are threatened with the overfishing of the conch, and the threat of a US ban on its importation as a food delicacy to save the species from extinction. Now enters King Oil with its offshore rigs which could further pollute — despite safety precautions — the natural habitat of the conch.
We need only one slip — equipment failure, staff error, a hurricane — and the purity and beauty of our shallow seas are gone forever.
As pointed out in the book Environmental Impact of the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry, the “main hazard is connected with the spills and blowouts of oil, gas, and numerous other chemical substances and compounds.
“The environmental consequences of accidental episodes are especially severe, sometimes dramatic, when they happen near the shore, in shallow waters, or in areas with slow water circulation.”
Offshore rigs, said another report, “can dump tons of drilling fluid, metal cutting, including toxic metals, such as lead chromium and mercury, as well as carcinogens, such as benzene, into the ocean.” And yet another report claims that “exploration for offshore oil involves firing air guns which send a strong shock across the seabed that can decrease fish catch, damage the hearing capacity of various marine species and may lead to marine mammal strandings.” It is claimed that “drilling activity around oil rigs is suspected of contributing to elevated levels of mercury in Gulf of Mexico fish.”
The big oil companies will extol the benefits of oil drilling, the elaborate safety measures taken around the wells, until the big blow comes and then they are in such a state of confusion that their tongues are tied to find an explanation of what went wrong. In 2010 the world watched in horror the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. As the thick oil spread south, even the Bahamas trembled. The talk then was who would our government hold responsible to clean up the mess that Bahamians feared might touch our shores. Fortunately the Bahamas was spared.
But in that disaster 11 workers were killed and more than three million gallons of crude oil poured into the Gulf.
Don’t say that it can’t happen here. It can happen here and this is where it is most likely to happen because, as we know in the Bahamas no one observes the rules for long, and security will soon slip.
A news report recently suggested that the Gulf accident happened because the US interior department “exercised lax oversight in approving BP’s operations in the Gulf, accepting too readily the company’s claims that there was little risk of an accident.”
It is almost obscene to think that the politicians are discussing the financial returns before investigating whether the dangers are too great for us to subject our fragile tourist economy to the oil consortiums.
As for a referendum. This is one problem that should not be put to a referendum. All Bahamians will see is the possibility of quick wealth — as in the drug peddling years — they will not even consider the possibility of these islands being covered in thick tar — off limits to everybody.
When Bahamians went to the polls on May 7th they elected Perry Gladstone Christie as prime minister, not Pontius Pilate, who washed his hands and walked away from the problem. Rather than leaving such a weighty problem to voters, who do not have access to the necessary information, it is for MPs to study the pros and cons, the benefits and the dangers, and with a vote of the Assembly, where they represent the people, make a rational and considered decision. If they are incapable of doing that then call it quits, go back to the people and give them a second chance to find someone willing to do the job they were elected to do.
This is not a vote for a referendum. This is a vote for members of parliament — all of them.