Residents weigh in on Oban

In this file photo Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine speaks with the press at the House of Assembly. (Photo by Torrell Glinton)

Originally promised to be completed and released to the public within 45 days post the signing of the Heads of Agreement (HOA), which took place between the government of the Bahamas and then non-executive Chairman of Oban Energies, Peter Kriegar, the highly anticipated Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), remains on the minds of many Grand Bahamians.

Additionally, many residents are of the view that such an important document should have been completed, verified and released in the public domain prior to the signing of the HOA for the proposed $5.5 billion project in East Grand Bahama.

As a result, Grand Bahamians remain in limbo with respect to their thoughts on the proposed oil refinery and storage facility project, which is expected to be located in East Grand Bahama, less than a mile away from the already existing Statoil facility, an oil storage facility.

Initially, when the HOA of agreement was signed in Nassau on February 19, of this year, between Kriegar and the government it was believed to be the original contract; however, it was later revealed that the signing was merely ceremonial, and Kriegar was, in fact, signing on behalf of Oban Energies, LLC President Satpal Dhunna, who was unable to attend the ceremonial signing.

It was later reported that Dhunna allegedly signed a binding HOA, days prior with the government. This vital information was not mentioned during the ceremonial signing, an omission which ultimately left a bitter taste in the mouths of many throughout the country.

Prior to the ceremonial signing on February 19, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis stated, “My government is pleased to have moved this project forward and has successfully completed negotiating the HOA, which paves the way for the commencement of this important project. While this process is not yet completed, this is a very important step in the process.”

He continued, “This is a very significant development for Grand Bahama and today’s signing also paves the way for the important Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. This process will ensure that the project proceeds to an environmentally safe and sustainable one. The government of The Bahamas looks forward to working with Oban Energies and other investors, as we seek to revitalize the island of Grand Bahama.”

Following the ceremonial signing of the HOA, Kreigar informed those in attendance that an EIA had begun and that he was hopeful it would be completed within 45 days.

Based on his statement, 45 business days from the date of the signing would be April 24.

He stated on February 19, “As a matter of fact, this week, our engineering team will be flying into Grand Bahama to have its scoping meeting with the government, to make sure we cover all environmental issues and that we are satisfied with the direction of the environmental mitigation that we are going to be doing, to protect the environment.

“Typically the environmental study, engineering, and other pre-construction works will begin after you have your approvals so that you know there is a project, but, because our conversations with the government have been so positive, we decided to take the first step forward, by engaging the engineers and environmentalists,” noted Kreigar.

When the news broke that the February 19 HOA signing between The Bahamas Government and Oban Energies, LLC was merely ceremonial, many Bahamians became irate, expressing their distaste in the present administration, mindful that their campaign trail was based on being a government of transparency, a promise that many residents admitted they were eager and anxiously wait from the Free National Movement (FNM) political party.
While offering his communication on the Mid-year Budget Statement on March 20, Dr. Minnis admitted that the government made errors and missteps with respect to the Oban Energies project. “I will acknowledge where we have made errors and made missteps, which need to be corrected. We will be honest with the Bahamian people about where we failed and what we will do, to improve governance.”

This daily, has since questioned a number of Grand Bahamians on their present view with the government’s stance and their thoughts on the project in general.

While many are of the view that the EIA should have been completed prior to the signing of the HOA, they remain hopeful and optimistic that the EIA will be made public and, hopefully, suggest that the good of such a development will far outweigh the bad, ultimately, positively benefitting the island.

Long-time resident, Grace Gibson said, “As long as the EIA is released to the public and shows that there will be no adverse negative impact on the residents of the island, I am for the project moving forward as planned. We must all remain mindful that while it is not an oil refinery, there is an already existing oil storage facility in the proposed vicinity of the Oban Energies project. That development (Statoil) is employing a number of Grand Bahamians.”

Gibson was questioned whether or not, housing the proposed Oban Energies, LLC development in another location on the island would have been more plausible, based on the concerns many environmentalists are raising with respect to the destroying of natural resources.

“I am of the view that the entire island should be protected, not just East Grand Bahama. That is why the EIA is so important. It does not matter where the project is housed, as long as a study is performed (which I am hoping is independent in nature) and the results determined that the project is, for the most part, safe for the residents and our environment, then, by all means proceed. But, if there is any indication that the negative implications outweigh the positive then, of course, we should not proceed. The lives of our children and grandchildren are far more important.”

Another resident, who chose to remain anonymous, admitted that he was born in the capital; however, Grand Bahama has been his home for over three decades. He shared that the proverbial “cart” was indeed put before the horse in this particular development.

“If the EIA was deemed acceptable then and only then should have an HOA been entered into by the Oban Energies conglomerate and The Bahamas Government. I also hope and pray that this EIA is being conducted by an independent, non-partisan entity with nothing to gain or lose, giving a fair and just non-biased assessment. This is our lives that we are talking about here, nothing is more important than life; therefore, a detailed thorough EIA must be completed before I say ‘yay or nay’ to the development.

“Grand Bahama truly needs a turnaround. We desperately need a major development such as this. One of this magnitude will for sure assist in bringing the ‘magic’ back to the island, which was one of the reasons that I relocated here. I do, however, have reservations with giving my five cents on whether or not I approve or disapprove of the development, but I must admit, full disclosure of the EIA and its findings will play a pivotal role in my overall decision.”

Another resident expressed that she is in no way shape of form in support of the project, regardless of where it may be housed.

She is of the view that as a Grand Bahamian, the island ranks as having one of the highest rates of cancer related deaths due to the already existing Industrial Park located near the western end of the island. She adamantly believes that the emissions released on a daily basis in the surrounding areas, have resulted in the deaths of many Grand Bahamians, many of whom she revealed are members of her immediate family.

“Being made privy to the details of an EIA means nothing to me; I can care less what it reveals. There is no doubt in my mind that operating another oil refinery in Grand Bahama or anywhere in The Bahamas, for that matter, will have a negative impact on our country.

“Our cancer related death toll will rise, there is no question about it. Why is it that there are no oil refineries in Florida? That alone should make people wonder; why is it that officials there have never approved the construction of one there? To me, that speaks volumes,” concluded the resident.

Member of Parliament for the Pineridge Constituency, Rev. Frederick McAlpine recently shared his thoughts on the project as well noting, “My view, as it relates to Oban is simply that I am very concerned about the environmental aspect. I hear some in the east (and that is not my constituency) saying that it concerns the east, but the problem is when you are talking about an oil refinery, it will affect us in the centre as well.
“I think that we must also give consideration to zoning. We had a former oil refinery in the western area of the island and now you want to try and put one in the eastern area, while the rest of us are in the middle. There is no way that the emission of that oil refinery will not affect the air of Grand Bahama, the health of people in Grand Bahama and perhaps even our water table. I am very concerned from the perspective of environmental concerns.

“The eastern end of the island is a very pristine part of our island that we ought to be preserving. There are also some other concerns, I know people have been saying that jobs will be made available and jobs are important, I understand that as well. Even as we are talking about jobs we also have to bear in mind that we are talking about 600 jobs in 10 years, if I am correct,” said McAlpine.

“On the average that is 60 people getting a job a year. Even when the former oil refinery was here on the island, (formerly known as BORCO, now Buckeye), when they were in their heydays, they were talking about at least 1,000 people or more working. All of these things we need to take into consideration; does the end justify the means?” asked McAlpine.

“There are other concerns about how it was dealt with from the administrative perspective. I was taught that if something does not start right, it usually does not end right.

“All of these things are things that we have to consider. Would I like to see an improvement in the economy of Grand Bahama? Yes, I would. At the expense of killing people, I am not sure; that must be more of the priority. What value do we put on people’s lives and are we just going to do anything because we are desperate?

“Desperation sometimes causes bad situations. I am not saying yes or no to the Oban development, as a Member of Parliament; I am in the maybe category. I need more information, more details. I need more justification as to why it has to be placed in the proposed location. For instance, if this is so important to us why not consider purchasing Buckeye, where the infrastructure for the oil refinery is already there and then consider moving the people in the Western District?

“Again, there are many things that we need to take a look at and consider, but we should not rush to do anything because we are desperate. Desperation can cause ruination. To avoid ruination, we should avoid being desperate, just pause, take a breath and let us ask ourselves, if this is good for our environment, is it good for our people, is it worth it in the end,” informed the MP for Pineridge.

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