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Local environmentalists urge gov’t to heed strong concerns expressed by representatives the country’s most important trading partner and strategic ally
The local conservation community is urging the government of the Bahamas to pay heed to the strong concerns expressed by 16 members of Congress and reject a proposal for oil drilling just miles off the US coast.
Bahamian environmentalists have been sounding the alarm for years over the Bahamas Petroleum Company’s (BPC) plan to drill exploratory wells in the pristine waters to the south and west of Andros Island, and are extremely grateful to the US legislators who have echoed their concerns.
“We are heartened and encouraged by the strong stance taken by congressmen against oil drilling in the Bahamas, said Waterkeeper Bahamas executive director Rashema Ingraham. “The United States is by far the most important trading partner and strategic ally for the Bahamas, and it would be highly irresponsible for our government to ignore their valid concerns.
“This BPC proposal is not only a critical threat to our precious marine environment, it is also a potential foreign relations catastrophe for this country. Oil drilling would endanger the entire east coast of the United States, a nation still feeling the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster a decade ago.
“Our tourism industry is currently being held hostage by the global Covid-19 pandemic and thousands of Bahamians are out of work. We must do all we can to preserve our good relationship with the United States as the Bahamas seeks to recover from the grave economic fallout. Now is not the time to anger our closest friends.”
Florida representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, wrote a bipartisan letter to Secretary Michael Pompeo and the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, requesting that the State Department ask the Bahamian government to discontinue efforts to approve offshore drilling in Bahamian waters near the U.S. Atlantic Coast. They were joined by 14 other representatives up and down the US Atlantic coast.
“The United States cannot afford another Deepwater Horizon disaster,” the letter said. “This bipartisan group of Members respects the sovereignty of The Bahamas, but a spill in Bahamian waters could bring ruin to both of our countries’ shorelines. Ten years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, we call on Secretary Pompeo to urge the Bahamian government to reconsider its efforts to green-light dirty offshore oil drilling in a region so full of magnificent ecosystems and so dependent on international tourism.”
Save The Bays chairman Joseph Darville said: “Congress has thankfully acknowledged what we have been saying from the beginning. The environmental risks of this ill-conceived plan are astronomical and the fallout from an accident would be absolutely devastating – not just for the Bahamas, but also for our valued strategic partner to the north.
“The dangers far outweigh any conceivable potential benefit. Congress members are absolutely justified in heeding the lessons of history. Even under the best possible conditions oil drilling is extremely hazardous; whereas in the Bahamas, we do not have an adequate regulatory regime to govern this industry, nor the resources to mitigate a massive spill. The United States came to our aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian
at considerable cost to the Federal government and risk to US Coast Guard personnel. It is our turn to be good neighbours and reciprocate that generosity of spirit.”
Casuarina McKinney-Lambert: ”No progress has been made to reduce the dangers of off-shore oil drilling since the Deepwater Horizon disaster took place 10 years ago that spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil. As a result of that oil spill, the US seafood industry lost nearly $1 billion, and the recreation industry lost more than $500 million. The US is still feeling the repercussions a decade later.
“As a country dependent on tourism and fisheries, the Bahamas cannot the afford the risk to our country that oil drilling in our waters would pose. Having gone through Hurricane Dorian and now experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t afford the risk of another massive setback.”
Save The Bays legal director Fred Smith, QC, noted that successive Bahamas governments have failed to effectively oversee the implementation of environmental protection laws.
“For instance, the Planning and Subdivision Act and the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape Act are routinely ignored by legislators in giving the green light to industrial projects. Why would anyone assume that in regard to oil exploration, they will suddenly become responsible stewards of the environment?
“Having laws and enforcing those laws are two completely different matters and the Bahamas has shown itself to be in capable of systematically ensuring that some of the very good laws passed by Parliament are administered. We still don’t have a Freedom of Information Act so we don’t know what permits have or have not been issued, under what circumstances, and there was no consultation. These are fundamental underpinnings for transparency demanded by civil society for decades now.”
Waterkeeper Bahamas’ Rashema Ingraham added that the Bahamas Environment Science and Technology (BEST) commission which advises the government, had raised concerns in the past and asked BPC to give more information regarding its environmental protection protocols, but it is unclear if this was ever complied with.
The environmental community called on the government of the Bahamas to respond to the Congress members’ letter promptly and to immediately revoke the exploratory license granted to BPC.
More Than 1.8 Million Gallons Spilled; Cleanup Effort Appears to be Inadequate
The Bahamas oil spill during Hurricane Dorian contaminated water in critical wetland habitat, including an area more than one mile away from the spill, according to sampling done by Waterkeepers Bahamas, Save the Bays, and Waterkeeper Alliance.
The groups took water samples at five locations near the Equinor/STATOIL spill, sending 54 individual water samples to Environmental Chemists, a certified water testing lab in Wilmington, N.C.
The water sample analysis shows distinct petroleum constituents, including alkanes, terpenes, and organic acid.
“These results are well beyond what would be naturally occurring,” said Christian Breen, field investigator for Waterkeeper Alliance. “The sample profile is distinct and consistent with the makeup of heavy-grade fuel oil, which is not supposed to be there.”
The affected wetlands provide a vital ocean buffer for Grand Bahama, as well as habitat for migratory birds, such as the West Indian woodpecker and red-legged thrush. The wetland also provides a critical cleansing mechanism for the island’s scarce groundwater.
Equinor, formerly known in the Bahamas as STATOIL, held 70 million gallons of oil at its storage site on Grand Bahama. Hurricane Dorian, which hit the Bahamas starting Sept. 1, blew off the tops of five oil storage tanks at the site. Save the Bays and Waterkeeper Alliance determined during a post-storm site visit that the spill thoroughly polluted the ground of at least a four-square-mile area that includes wetlands, pine forests, and mangroves.
“We witnessed dozens of workers cleaning up the massive amount of oil at the spill site,” said Joseph Darville, Grand Bahama Coastal Waterkeeper and Chairman of Save The Bays. “There were trucks vacuuming the oil and pumping it into tank trucks. We witnessed workers knee-deep in oil. Not only are these conditions unsafe for workers, but the haphazard and superficial cleanup we witnessed will not be adequate to protect the sensitive pine forest and wetlands threatened by this spill.”
Equinor has recovered 1.8 million gallons of oil from the site, company spokesman Erik Haaland told Waterkeeper Alliance on Tuesday.
“Freshwater is a scarcity in the Bahamas,” said Rashema Ingraham, executive director of Save the Bays and Bimini Coastal Waterkeeper. “The islands in the north are covered in pine forests, which capture rainwater in underground lenses. The pine forest near the site was completely affected by this spill. When you look at the connectivity of these ecosystems, it’s scary. My short-term concern is for the wildlife in the area, including blue crabs, fish, and native boa constrictor snakes. My long-term concern is about the safety of that freshwater supply.”
Pete Nichols, organizing director at Waterkeeper Alliance, said, “Equinor is a Norweigan company; this spill should be cleaned up to at least Norweigan standards. We call on Equinor CEO Eldar Sætre to ensure that the site is left as clean as it would be had this spill taken place behind his home in Norway.”
The environmental groups call for a comprehensive impact study to quantify the impact of the spill, to properly identify all impacted areas, and to guide remediation efforts.
Equinor agreed on Tuesday to planned monthly visits to the site from Save the Bays. The company also gave Save The Bays and Waterkeeper Bahamas a tour of the facility and impacted area earlier this month.
A map and photos of the oil spill site, as well as Save the Bays and Waterkeeper at work in the Bahamas, can be found here.
By Paige McCartney, The Tribune
Environmentalists took Minister of the Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira to task yesterday for what they perceived as him making light of the oil spill in eastern Grand Bahama.
Save the Bays Chairman Joe Darville said he was shocked and astounded, while reEarth President Sam Duncombe said she was astonished, by the government’s response to the oil spill that emanated from the Equinor terminal at South Riding Point.
“I wasn’t just shocked, I was astounded by his response. Mr. Ferreira is a friend of ours, he’s worked diligently with us in our environmental cases against people who offend our environment and I could not believe it,” Darville told Guardian Business.
“I’m sure he was trying to be funny, but that came across as being crass stupidity and for that to come out of the mouth of someone over a very serious problem in that area and even though at the present time they may be addressing it expeditiously, it took them more than ten days after the storm to really dedicate any sort of cleanup of that environment.”
Darville was responding to Ferreira’s comment that three birds and one goat were impacted by the oil spill.
“To treat that in a callous way is not the way to address a catastrophic situation like that,” Darville said.
“My heart just bled for that whole environment out there and of course we stopped in High Rock, we were tracking where the oil could have come and it came 1.62 miles, we measured from Equinor into High Rock and it pooled in an area there where the seawall had fallen in and also the road.”
Duncombe added during a separate interview, “For the government to downplay this issue and make it sound like, ‘Oh it’s okay’, no there’s nothing okay about it. There’s absolutely nothing okay about it. This kind of catastrophic situation underscores the cries from environmentalists in the country that have been saying for decades we need to move away from fossil fuels, we need to look at renewable energy.”
When Category 5 storm Hurricane Dorian ripped through Grand Bahama earlier this month, the lids from a few of the holding containers which stored approximately 1.9 million barrels of crude oil blew off.
The government has said it is satisfied with the efforts made by Norwegian-based Equinor to remediate the spill, despite the company taking longer than a week to start the cleanup process.
Ferreira said so far about 6,000 barrels of oil – which equates to about 252,000 U.S. gallons – have been cleaned from the surrounding area.
Darville said the damage has already been done.
“The very first chance I had I actually went out there and had some reporters who were here from Norway, because the company comes from Norway, and they were absolutely astounded at the amount of oil that was there and so visible along the public roads, emanating out of the property at Equinor,” he said.
“From their views it’s going toward the north toward the mangroves at North Riding Point. But we could see by eye from the road 450 liters where the oil had saturated that whole area and at that point in time, our native Caribbean pine that stands about 35 feet tall, as tall as the Equinor office building, they were saturated with oil.”
Duncombe added that she doesn’t believe a spill of that magnitude could ever fully be cleaned.
“When you have that kind of oil spilling out onto the land environment, it’s going to seep down and affect the ground water. It’s going to affect all of the soil and for the communities that live around that area, you’re talking about exposure from smelling these chemicals all day which can cause nausea, headaches and longer term impacts because you’re constantly inhaling these toxic chemicals,” she said.
“The response from the government to the oil spill has been just astonishing really, because it’s almost as if they’re mollycoddling them. This is a huge environmental impact to Grand Bahama, it’s a huge impact to the water table, it’s a huge impact to the marine environment, animals in the marine environment that are coming into contact with that oil.”
by Leila MacOr, Phys.org
The air smells like fuel, the ground is covered in a black paste-like substance and the residents of Grand Bahama are afraid.
After sowing mass destruction across the island, Hurricane Dorian delivered one final blow: an oil spill at the Norwegian Equinor facility.
Dozens of residents of the small town of High Rock have set up tents among the rubble that was once their homes, where they divvy up meager handouts that come their way.
They survive amid the disaster, but now, adding insult to injury, they fear that the air that they breathe and the water that they drink is not safe.
Residents say the water filters they were given are not useful against the toxicity.
The oil is “deadly, deadly,” said Marco Roberts, 38, holding a mask and lamenting the poisoned state of his island.
“The oil is actually leaking in the water, and now you can’t bathe in the water, or you can’t drink the water. The only water we can bathe in is what you all give us,” he told AFP.
Six kilometers (four miles) away the ground is saturated with a black, thick paste.
“They need to evacuate the whole East End or come do something,” Roberts said.
At ground zero, several huge oil storage tanks are colored black by overflown oil, which has spread over a still yet to be defined section of land near the coast.
It remains unknown if oil from the Equinor facility reached the ocean.
Equinor said in a statement “there is currently no observed leakage of oil to the sea from the South Riding Point terminal.”
However, it said “surveillance has identified potential product in open waters 70-80 kilometers north east of the terminal within Long Point Bight close to Little Abaco Island.”
“There are also indications that the product may have impacted a section of the coastline,” it said.
The spill occurred at Equinor’s South Riding Point terminal, which has a storage capacity of 6.75 million barrels of crude and condensate.
According to Equinor, the tanks were storing 1.8 million barrels when the hurricane hit.
Normally, hurricanes blow through the Bahamas in a matter of hours.
But Dorian stalled for three days over the northern edge of the archipelago, causing widespread damage on the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco.
Sign not to be ‘foolish’
“Before the hurricane hit, nine of our 10 tanks at the terminal had aluminium domed roofs,” said Equinor spokesman Erik Haaland. “Five of these roofs are now gone.”
Equinor said it had an “advanced onshore response team” working on site as well as more than 200 personnel focused on response around the world.
Two vessels, one of which arrived Tuesday and one slated to arrive Thursday, were to help in the effort, carrying 42 personnel and onshore oil recovery equipment.
Environmental activist Joseph Darville said he has fought for years with the NGO Waterkeepers Bahamas against the terminal, located along a coast that is dependent on tourism and fishing and whose water table is only a meter (yard) deep.
Darville came to the site to examine whether the spill contaminated the beach.
The ocean was calm and intensely turquoise, but the vegetation has been destroyed and strewn branches from the hurricane create a sad landscape.
He was glad to see small, recently born fish in the water and thought it was a good sign for now.
“This is where most of all of our seafood comes from, from this area, from these magnificent coral reefs,” he said, including deep sea fish, like red snapper, grouper and lobster.
The area’s bonefish, he said, is a $7 billion industry.
Pointing to the beach, he said: “This is where they go along the shore… and spawn by the millions about three miles offshore.”
“So this is a sign to us not to be so foolish in the future,” he said.
A recent trip to Bimini, Cat Cay & Ocean Cay, by a team from Save The Bays, has us asking more questions of this Government than we can find answers to. Day and night, the all too familiar sound of pilings being continuously driven into the ocean bed can be heard echoing across Bimini as an extension to the cruise ship pier takes place. Back in 2014 Save The Bays fought the destroying “developing” resort over its proposed pier, knowing that the island was too small to bring a 1600 person ship to such a small island as environmentalist knew too well. The case got all the way to the Privy Council; but this was thwarted at the eleventh hour when the resort mysteriously managed to produce the relevant missing approvals overnight along with government signatures.
Our fears were confirmed, the cruise ship stopped coming after a year, yet 12 dive reefs were suffocated in the process, coastal erosion soared, beaches on the west side of Bimini disappeared overnight, fish stocks dwindled, the infrastructure on the island proved it could not cope with overflowing trash, a lack of water and electricity on an already overextended island and resort.
So why is the pier being extended yet again? Were the public or environment agencies made aware of this and whatever happened to the Mitigation Measures dating back to phase 1 of developments, never to be heard of again? Bimini has no new clinic, no new school, no sea defenses, no improved infrastructure. It did just get a fire truck, but that was courtesy of some American home owners who raised funds after the mail boat caught fire and not from the resort as promised.
So what exactly did Bimini get in exchange for the loss of 650+ Acres of mangrove forests and how has that end of the island managed to “grow” to three times the size of what was actually purchased by Gerado Capo as Bimini Bay Resort back in 1998 under the Quiet Titles Act through Ingraham’s Government. Which brings up the question, “How” was Bimini’s biggest piece of real estate 650 acres plus, sold legally under that act to a foreign investor? The Sound as it’s known to the local Biminites, was once not so long ago, the home to the rare small sawtooth shark, millions of shrimp, turtles as well as the marine hatchery for multitudes of other species. Now you are lucky if you see anything except silted up muddy water from all the development, dredging and run offs, with not a single boom in sight to protect our waters.
My heart bleeds for what successive Governments have sold off, favoring the mighty dollar over Mother Earth’s diverse marine eco habitats. Which brings me to another question, just how much land has the resort created? And if the ocean bed cannot be sold, only leased from the Government, then surely the land created on and from the sea bed, should only be up for lease and not for sale for millions of dollars that are going into foreign ownership hands resulting from real estate companies selling million dollar homes? How are Bimini and Our Bahamaland benefitting?
The beach road that once was the gateway to East Wells, where generations after generations have gone for crab, or to see a rare Bimini Boa, or to fish in peace and quiet, has been systematically deliberately destroyed by OPAC, Capo’s construction company, in order to create “private beach fronts” to its multi-million dollar beach homes starting at $3 million, with a private road and security check point behind the homes, making it inaccessible to all but home owners.
Let’s not forget that in last years Hurricane Irma when dozens of the resorts floating docks from the Bahamas biggest mega marina bust open spewing tons of polystyrene particles into the ocean making it look like Bimini had had major snowfall. The resort made a show of clearing it up on the morning PM Minnis was arriving to assess the damage as Bimini’s protest groups videos of the spill went viral through various international environment agencies. A year on, the same type of floating docks are back in place as if waiting for it to happen all over again, while to this day, polystyrene is still washing up on our shores, some chunks several feet long, being ingested by fish and birds. Oh Bimini, how we miss the days when this special little Island in the stream could be described so aptly by Dr Martin Luther King as the “Promised Land”. If he were to see his Promised Land now, he would shed tears of blood!
Along the islands created upon the extensive seabed the little mangrove propagules by the hundreds, if not thousands, are popping their two leaf heads above the shallow water, as if to say, please, please spare us so we can do the task entrusted to us by the Creator.
Who in God’s name and on behalf of the people of the Bahamas are monitoring what is continuing to happen in North Bimini Bay; who is monitoring what is happening on South Cat Cay and Ocean Cay, where the identical savage and wanton destruction of the sea beds are taking place.( I will write on this in the next release).
Who, pray tell me , is it the BEST COMMISSION on behalf of the Prime Minister? Is it the Ministry of the Environment? Is it the elected representative for these areas of the Bahamas? We never see any of these entities in these areas to witness the ungodly devastation of our precious environment, seabed, mangroves, coral reefs and all marine life dependent upon these ecosystems. Our Prime Minister just returned recently from the United Nation, touting the need for support for our nation to protect, and mitigate against the ravages of Climate Change and Sea Level Rise. Yet, however, we continue to allow foreign entities to come in and extensively demolish those systems which form the very first defense against natural forces.
I earnestly pray at this Yuletide Season that we awaken to our God-entrusted stewardship and protect what has been so graciously and unconditionally gifted to us. Blessings to all!
I am a man and I cry. There, I have said it.
I cry for the inhumanity of human against human. I cry for all the parts and parcels of The Bahamas that Bahamians do not have access to.
Please, please do not make Lighthouse Point one of them.
Every time I learn of a little piece of this beautiful archipelago that is being developed without kind and gentle care for its future, I am torn between wanting to scream and shedding another tear. Like others who support Save The Bays, I am not anti-development. But development must be done by with care by those who care. It must be sensitive to the environment and sustainable for the future. Its footprint must be acceptable.
At this moment in time, there is no area under more of a threat than Lighthouse Point and Lighthouse Beach in South Eleuthera. Disney Cruise Lines wants to buy either the 700-acre parcel or some substantial portion thereof to create a private destination for its passengers. I cannot blame Disney. Lighthouse Point is one of the most breathtaking places on the face of God’s green earth and that is only one reason why it must be preserved for Bahamians. It is also one of the highest elevations and with climate change and the accompanying sea level rise, researchers far wiser than I predict that many of our islands may be underwater in less than a century, making it even more critical to preserve key high elevation places for future generations.
Fifty, 80 or 100 years from now, our great grandchildren and theirs may be searching for high land or living on the sea. And where will Disney be then? Will it have abandoned its pretty little piece of paradise like Gold Rock did when it finished the Disney movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, and left structures to rust, like a diseased ghost town in Grand Bahama?
If you do not care about one senior citizen activist like me who wants to save Lighthouse Point, there are 28,382 other reasons, every one of them a person who cared enough to sign the petition as of 5 pm on September 17, 2018. It is the largest petition in Bahamas history so far as I can tell. Before this, Save The Bays had amassed the most signatures with more than 7,000 for a broad spectrum of environmental measures. Bahamians are not great petition signers. We would rather go on radio and talk or complain to anyone in general. But the children from a school in South Eleuthera who are leading part of Save Lighthouse Point drive and the crush of people signing every few seconds is jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring. Consider it relative to other drives. An oil pollution petition attracted 1,400 signatures, an anti-Oban Energies petition got 550 signatures. Save Lighthouse Point is at 28,000 and climbing.
28,000+ signatures – Mr. Prime Minister and those who we elected to represent us, hear the voices of those who penned that petition and do the right thing. Not because one old man does not want to shed another tear for another piece of The Bahamas that will be lost. There are plenty of places to create a cruise ship play area, including right across the harbour from where the ships dock in Nassau or in Grand Bahama. But not at Lighthouse Point. Please, Mr. Prime Minister, save Lighthouse Point for Bahamians and anyone who wants to visit and leave that craggy, rocky, green hills and white sand beaches canvas of Nature just as they found it, taking only memories of the beauty with them.
Joseph Darville, Chairman – Save The Bays
Save the Bays named partner by leading global nonprofit
Affiliation will give local advocacy group access to funding from more than 1,200 environmentally conscious companies and individuals around the world
A reputation for fearless and groundbreaking environmental advocacy has led to Save the Bays being named an official partner of one of the world’s foremost environmental nonprofits – opening the door to funding and support from hundreds of environmentally conscious companies and individuals in more than 40 countries.
One Percent for the Planet is an extensive network of businesses that donate one percent of all profits directly to approved organisations that are addressing critical environmental issues. This partnership will trigger a host of benefits for STB, including visibility on the One Percent website, the ability to use One Percent branding, and connections with businesses around the world that may be interested in supporting the group’s work.
“This is huge,” said Rashema Ingraham, Outreach Coordinator for STB. “One Percent for the Planet is known and respected worldwide. The organisation’s network is extremely wide-ranging, its branding appears on millions of products and services, and 20 percent of all consumers in the United States recognise the logo.
“With this new partnership, STB can take its advocacy on behalf of the country’s precious natural resources to a whole new level. We plan to use the benefits of this affiliation to strengthen our Youth Environmental Ambassadors program, which has already reached thousands of local children; and to increase awareness of the urgent need for sustainable, property regulated development.”
One Percent’s nonprofit partners receive contributions from more than 1,200 member businesses and numerous private individuals in 48 countries around the world. Donors, in turn, have a trustworthy and accessible way to support the environment by donating to organisations such as STB which have been vetted and approved to receive funds.
Founded in 2002, it has already contributed more than $175 million to environmental preservation and the global network continues to grow all the time.
“This is really a game-changer for our organisation,” said STB President Joseph Darville. “We feel it is a just reward for the groundbreaking work we have done in recent years to combat unregulated development and raise awareness of the dangers to our delicate marine and terrestrial environment posed by the scourge of industrial pollution.
“We could not be more pleased to have been chosen for this honour and we thank One Percent for the Planet for recognising the integrity and legitimacy of our work.