NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The government has tabled new regulations to the Petroleum Act, 2016, that establishes the area around the Bahamas Petroleum Company’s (BPC) exploratory oil well near Andros a safety zone and a prohibited area.

The Petroleum (Operation of Facilities) (Safety Zone)(Regulations), 2020, which was made on December 24, 2020, establishes a safety zone 500 meters (m) around the facility and prohibits certain activity in that zone.

BPC: “Perseverance #1 — a potentially transformational exploration well.” The well is 90 miles from Andros, and approximately 270 miles from Nassau.

The schedule of the regulation identifies the location as “Cooper”, with a Latitude of 23°12′ 12.35N and a Longitude of 079° 08′ 14.1W

Minister of Health Renward Wells tabled the regulations in Parliament on Monday.

The act only requires that the regulation be tabled before it is enacted and does not require a debate.

According to the regulation, no person or vessel shall enter, remain, sail through, anchor or carry on any other activity within the safety zone other than activity authorized under the licenses and no person operating a manned or unmanned aircraft shall permit the aircraft to enter the safety zone below 30,000 feet.

The only exceptions for entering the safety zone include the need to lay, inspect, test, repair, alter, renew or remove a submarine cable or pipeline in or near that prohibited area under the authorization of a government department; the need to provide services for the facility, to transport people or goods to or from the facility, under the authorization of a government department; or to inspect any facility in the prohibited area.

Exceptions will also be allowed for individuals and vessels performing duties related to the safety of navigation generally; in case of force majeure; to render assistance, to save or attempt to save life or property; owing to bad weather; or when the facility may be in distress.

Any person who contravenes the regulations commits an offense and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $50,000, or on conviction on indictment to imprisonment not exceeding two years, or a fine that may be unlimited, or both.

The operator of the facility in the licensed area will have to provide prior notice to the department that issued the license of any change of location.

Environmentalists locally and abroad have been demonstrating against oil drilling in The Bahamas over the past few months. (FILE PHOTO)

Additionally, the regulation stipulates that operation of the facility should be carried out in accordance with the license, any applicable laws and international conventions, treaties and obligations.

BPC commenced the drilling of its exploratory oil well Perseverance #1 on December 20.

The well is 90 miles from Andros and approximately 270 miles from Nassau.

The drilling continues amidst an ongoing legal battle between the government and environmentalists, over the decision to grant licenses for oil drilling in the country.

Last week, the court ruled in favor of BPC by allowing them to be added to the matter as a respondent.

Supreme Court Justice Petra Hanna-Adderley has granted applicants leave to seek judicial review of the government’s approvals for BPC to drill an exploratory well in Bahamian waters, ruling that environmental organizations Save The Bays and Waterkeeper Bahamas Limited have “an arguable case”.

However, Hanna-Adderley denied the applicants’ application for a stay of the ongoing drilling exercise — a process that began on December 20.

The drilling exercise is expected to be completed within 45 to 60 days of commencement and does not involve extracting any oil if found.

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