Environment Minister Ken Dorsett said the government would not require a national referendum - as previously promised - before going ahead with licensed exploratory oil drilling. He added that an updated regulatory framework would be implemented before drilling takes place.
"The new regulations are substantially complete already and will be presented to Cabinet very shortly," Dorsett said. "Exploration drilling is of course the only way the Bahamian people will be able to get a scientific answer to the burning question as to whether petroleum reserves even exist in commercial quantities in our waters. Obviously, we are not going to have a referendum on a hypothetical proposition.
"If during the course of licensed exploration activities, commercial quantities of oil are, in fact, discovered in our waters, we would then engage the Bahamian people in an extensive public information programme to ensure that all important facts are laid before the people for their consideration and discussion, well in advance of a national referendum on the matter."
As part of this public information process, he said, the government would provide a timeline for production and engage in a national dialogue on how oil revenues should be used. Exploration data will not be available until late 2014 or early 2015.
As the Minister noted, exploration activities have already commenced in the region and in fact are well underway just on the other side of the country’s maritime boundary with Cuba. (The) announcement clears the way for a thorough assessment to be conducted on the potential for oil on the Bahamian side of the border. The best and most suitable technology will be brought to bear to ensure that any activities conducted offshore are executed safely, and in a manner that both preserves and protects the environment for generations to come."
Environmentalists have complained that the government is proceeding with oil dxploration before putting in place a new regulatory framework to promote alternative energy sources, as has been promised by both the Ingraham and Christie administrations.
Last year Dorsett said the government would "remove the legal impediments of exclusive rights for the generation and sale of eletricity," Dorsett said. "The prohibition of self-generation and interconnection to the grid." He added that incentives would be put in place to help reduce energy demand and promote the use of alternative energy sources."
These incentives would include further reductions of import duties on energy-efficient appliances, as well as tax deductions for businesses that carry out independent energy audits and undertake energy conservation measures. He said the government would also conduct energy audits and retrofit public buildings with solar panels.
There has been no movement on any of these promises to date.
Environmentalists also point to the ongoing oil spills at Clifton Pier on the island of New Providence - where the Bahamas Electrcity Corporation's main power plant is located - and at industrial sites in Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama. Little information is available on the measures taken, if any, to address these spills.
Meanwhile, the opposition Free National Movement called for "full disclosure" of any ties between government politicians and BPC. "Full disclosure must begin with Senator Jeerome Gomez, former country manager for BPS, Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis amd Prime Minister Perry Christie, attorney and consultant respectively," said FNM Chairman Darron Cash recently.
"The Minister should not have announced the government's policy reversal until the proposed legislative changes and the regulatory framework could be disclosed at the same time...There is no information packet available, no statement of government principles, no answers to frequently asked or anticipated questions, no secretariat and no readily available environmental impact studies," he said. "
Cash said the opposition would try to ensure that "the first drill does not penetrate the seabed until the appropriate legislative and regulatory frameworks are in place".
These are essentially the same positions - everyone is saying that no offshore exploration should take place whatsoever until new and updated regulations are produced, released, reviewed and implemented.