The Gulf of Mexico is no stranger to offshore oil extraction nor oil spills. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill dumped nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf and is considered the largest marine oil spill in human history. The environmental and economic devastation that followed cannot be understated. The Center for American Progress, for example, found a “$8.7 billion impact on the economy of the Gulf of Mexico including losses in revenue, profit, wages, and close to 22,000 jobs.” That fate is becoming a possibility for the Bahamas due to a looming oil operation.
Yesterday, Sunday December 20th, Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC), broke ground on an exploratory oil well south of Florida and the Bahamas. The well will be completed in 45-60 days. Both of these regions heavily rely on their blue economy–tourism, recreation, commercial fishing, etc–and have some of our favorite shallow water fisheries. The drilling prompted a letter signed by 18 Congresspeople expressing their opposition to the offshore oil well.
BPC’s exploratory well, Perseverance #1, will uncover the true size of the oil reserves. From there, the scale and size of BPC’s operation becomes clear. This well could potentially produce 1.4 billion barrels of oil. Currently, BPC holds five additional licenses for four million acres. So, Perseverance #1 would be just the beginning. The waters surrounding the Bahamas could very well be converted into a large scale offshore oil operation.
“Offshore oil drilling in The Bahamas is wrong on so many levels”, said Chris Wilke of Waterkeeper Alliance. “It places some of the best refuges of coral habitat in the Northern Atlantic at risk of a catastrophic oil spill, threatening some of the most intact and pristine shallow water habitat in the entire Caribbean region. It also threatens the way of life and the sustainable economy of a nation that is reliant on tourism and fishing for over 50% of its GDP. Visitors around the world are drawn here for the clean water, beautiful beaches and abundant outdoor recreation opportunities. This could all be lost if we see even a partial repeat of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Disaster”.
A broad coalition is standing up to BPC in a last-ditch play to prevent offshore drilling in Bahamian waters and preserve these sustainable economies for generations to come. Our Island, Our Future is made up of dozens of local groups as well as many more from beyond the Bahamas. The group was founded to “unite Bahamians who are passionate about protecting their heritage, their livelihood and their homes.”
Our Island, Our Future is now working to convince the Prime Minister of the Bahamas to cancel all existing oil leases. Many are flatly opposed to offshore drilling because of the threat of accident and a sequel to what transpired at Deepwater Horizon, which was also an exploratory well. But, in addition, the group is highlighting another reason to oppose this well: BPC’s recent track record. BPC has outstanding payments to the Bahama Government for licenses. The environmental impact analysis that BPC used to obtain its license fails to adequately address the impacts of toxic discharges. And, deflects responsibility in a major spill instance and says the clean up response would have to come from the United States.
Bonefish and Tarpon Trust wrote in a social media post, “due to the proposed drilling site’s close proximity to the Gulf Stream, a spill could also have devastating consequences for Florida’s fisheries and coastlines, impacting the state’s tourism and fishing industry.”
To demonstrate opposition to drilling off of the Bahamas, nearly 77,000 people have signed a petition to ask the Prime Minister to put a stop to BPC’s oil drilling. The petition, which is sponsored by Our Island, Our Future, writes, “let us be known for pristine waterways and our commitment to a sustainable economy, not dirty fossil fuels or another uncontrolled and costly oil disaster.”
Extractive industries are an unfortunate reality in our society. But without proper planning or mitigation measures, projects like BPC’s can run afoul quickly. They can destroy entire biomes and the connected economies–just like Deepwater Horizon. Please review the petition and sign on, if you agree with protecting sustainable economies, including some of the greatest bonefish flats on the planet!
Cover picture shot on location at Delphi Bonefish Club.