Krista Kurth, Ph.D.
How You Can Help Ban Offshore Oil Drilling in the Bahamas
Updated: Mar 1, 2021
You will protect the Florida coast too
Have you ever been to the Bahamas and bathed in the amazing crystal turquoise waters there? Or seen videos or pictures of them, like the one above that I took when I last visited in January 2020?
If you have been in or near the pristine waters, then you know they are a balm for the body and soul. They are also home to an amazing underwater ecosystem of colorful coral reefs and fish that provide both food and entertainment to locals and visitors.
I know this, because I grew up in The Bahamas and spent a lot of time on and under the water. While I now live in the Washington, D.C. area, the islands have never left me. I am still connected (half my siblings still live there) and care deeply about the environment, people and the country, which, like all small island nations, are hugely affected by climate change.
Now, imagine these beautiful waters stained dark by oil slicks. See the pristine pink beaches and sea birds covered in tar. Witness the fish and corals die, poisoned by petroleum toxins, not only in the islands of the Bahamas, but along the Florida coastline as well. You've seen the disaster pictures in the news before. You know what it can look like and how devastating it can be.
But this can't be happening in paradise, you might be thinking. There isn't any offshore drilling in the Bahamas. I know it sounds implausible, but it’s real. It’s an environmental crisis much closer to happening than we realize.
The Threat of Drilling for Oil in the Bahamas (2020 and Beyond)
Even though various companies have searched in vain for oil in Bahamian waters since the 1950s, the Bahamian Government recently approved 5 licenses for offshore oil drilling to the British owned Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC). Various local environmental organizations, the Bahamas National Trust, U.S. environmentalists like Alexandra Cousteau, and 17 U.S. Congress members urged the current Prime Minister of The Bahamas to reconsider and cancel the agreement with BPC, rightfully claiming that this issue potentially affects the entire region, including the United States.
While the U.S. has banned offshore drilling off the coasts of Florida, the coastline and marine ecosystems there, and in the Caribbean, could still be threatened by an oil spill in Bahamian waters. The nearest point of the Bahamian archipelago lies just 50 miles off the Florida coast.
In their two-page letter, the members of the U.S. congress raised this issue when they cited the need “to protect the beauty and longevity of our fragile and shared ecosystems, the economies that depend on them, and the future of our planet.” They also shared their concern about BPC’s ability to prevent and mitigate an oil spill, if it should happen, and to describe how drilling for more oil runs counter to the interests of both Bahamians and Americans who wish to mitigate the devastating impacts of the climate crisis.
Environmental groups in the Bahamas and the United States have also objected strongly to the drilling permits. They joined together to form a coalition, called
Our Islands Our Future, that started working towards getting the Bahamian Government to stop drilling and permanently ban oil drilling in their waters. They also filed a case with the Supreme Court in the Bahamas to stop BPC from drilling. Unfortunately, the court allowed BPC to continue, and they began drilling their exploratory well in December 2020.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court allowed for a judicial review of the contracts between the Bahamian Government and BPC to proceed. The court scheduled the case hearing at the end of March 2021. Also, BPC in the course of their exploration discovered that while there is oil in the well, it was not enough to be commercially viable to continue. On February 8th, 2021, they permanently capped and abandoned the well.
So, What’s the Problem Then?
There are several problems. As Alexandra Cousteau said in a recent article, “where we drill, we spill.” This can happen during any stage of the process, including leaks from capped wells, which, as the BP Deepwater Horizon incident showed, can have huge and long-lasting effects on both marine and economic life.
Specifically, in the case in the Bahamas:
There has been no verification of the permanence and quality of the cap put in place by BPC. If they did not install it properly, the oil they found could leak out.
It is not clear if BPC has insurance that will cover a leak after the well is closed.
There is not a well thought out mitigation plan for addressing a leak if it happens.
BPC still has licenses for 4 additional sites for offshore drilling in the Bahamas.
The Supreme Court case to review the contracts is still happening and the court could require the coalition to provide $200,000 in security of costs that BPC has requested.
The Cabinet in the Bahamas, which has the authority to ban oil-drilling, has not yet considered the matter.
And all this is on top of the fact that if we are going to turn the climate crisis around we need to stop taking fossil fuels out of the ground all together.
Ok, What Can We Do to Help Now?
There are three ways you can help keep the Bahamian waters pristine:
1. Our Islands Our Future created a petition on Change.org asking the Prime Minister of the Bahamas to cancel all licenses for future offshore oil drilling and to ban oil drilling in the waters of the Bahamas permanently. So far, over 93,000 Bahamian and U.S. citizens have signed the petition. You can find out more information and sign the petition here. Then share it with your friends and family and social media outlets.
2. Consider making a tax-deductible donation to Waterkeeper Alliance to help save this beautiful, wild and globally important place from destruction. The coalition is looking to raise the $200,000 the court may require. TO DONATE: Click this link, or print and mail this form and send a check to Waterkeeper Alliance with Bahamas Offshore Drilling in the memo to 180 Maiden Lane, Suite 603, New York, NY 10038.
3. Visit The Bahamas when it's safe to travel. Your tourist dollars will offset the need to boost the economy with oil.
Thanks for caring about keeping oil in the ground and the waters and oceanic wildlife of the Bahamas and Florida pristine for generations to come.
All the best,