NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Environmentalists who have been lobbying against exploratory oil drilling in Bahamian waters yesterday called it “distressing” and “concerning” that the government would move to establish the area surrounding Bahamas Petroleum Company’s (BPC) oil well as a safety zone and prohibited area.

On Monday, the government tabled the Petroleum (Operation of Facilities) (Safety Zone)(Regulations), 2020, which was made on December 24, 2020, establishing a safety zone 500 meters (m) around the facility and prohibiting certain activity in that zone.

Joseph Darville, the chairman of the non-profit organization Save The Bays.

Joe Darville, chairman of Save The Bays and Waterkeeper Bahamas, said while it is understandable that the area must be safeguarded from any unforeseen accident, the government must ensure that there is constant monitoring of the site for proper enforcement of environmental laws.

He noted that the exploratory drilling is a “potentially catastrophic, accident-prone venture” that forces the government to undertake the responsibility to declare it a no-fly or no-entrance zone.

“I would hope the government has assumed full responsibility to monitor every single activity of that particular venture that is going into the belly and the bosom and the breast of mother earth,” Darville said.

“If they are not capable of doing that, then I would assume that they have other entities that have the expertise to carry out that particular activity of monitoring exactly what is happening, what is being dumped into the ocean as a result of the drilling into the bottom of the ocean.

“And I would hope that…regard is had for environmental groups of this country, who are seriously dedicated to the preservation of this pristine environment, and that they would be invited by whoever is monitoring the area, for them to have a view of exactly what that particular drilling ship is doing in our territorial waters, which belong to us, to the people of The Bahamas.”

The Save the Bays chairman also contended that the government should provide regular updates with respect to the impact on the ocean and marine life surrounding the area, and how the facility will handle its waste, including blackwater and gray water.

“I would demand that our government gives an update every so often to ensure they are preserving the pristine and lack of unnecessary damage to our precious environment.”

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.

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