Oban Energies President Satpal Dhunna’s pledge not to proceed with the construction of the $5.5 billion oil refinery in East Grand Bahama until the completion of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) will do precious little in placating the environmental think tank Save The Bays.
I understand that Mr. Joseph Darville, who I believe to be a Grand Bahama native, is chairman of Save The Bays. Darville minced no words in describing the Free National Movement (FNM) administration’s decision to sign the heads of agreement with Oban Energies officials as “demonic” and “sacrilegious.” The Save The Bays chairman seems to assume that the Grand Bahamian people are collectively opposed to Oban. However, I uderstand that over 80 percent of those in attendance at the recent Oban Energies town meeting in High Rock supported Dhunna’s proposed $5.5 billion investment in their neck of the woods.
These people are understandably cautiously optimistic about Oban Energies, despite the fourth estate’s immense influence in shaping a very negative narrative about the project. But these Grand Bahamians are practical. While they are against any reckless project which would destroy the environment, they are fully aware that the island is in dire need of direct foreign investments. Dhunna assured Grand Bahamians that Oban Energies will do its utmost to protect the environment. They have no reason to doubt his word.
The few at the High Rock town meeting who opposed Oban were mostly from Nassau. Nassauvians, by and large, seem to represent the overwhelming majority of those who object to the project, which is odd, seeing that they don’t even live in Grand Bahama.
In a recent poll concerning Oban Energies that was conducted by The Nassau Tribune 242 webpage, readers were asked if they were in favor of the project. Of the 438 who participated, a staggering 324 or 74 percent voted in opposition to the proposal. Presumably the overwhelming majority of the participants are Nassauvians. I think most Nassauvians’ mindset of Grand Bahama has been shaped by their experience of living on an island that is 21 miles long and seven miles wide.
Many of them are probably thinking that the oil refinery will be built several blocks down from a community. They are probably now aware of the fact that Grand Bahama is 95 miles long - 74 miles longer than New Providence, an island that is home to over 274,400 persons. Statoil is located on Grand Bahama Highway, sandwiched between the settlements of High Rock and Pelican Point. This fact should not delude Nassauvians into thinking that the oil storage facility is just a mere short distance away from the two settlements as is the case with the New Providence Landfill being a short distance from Jubilee Gardens. Statoil is miles away from both High Rock and Pelican Point.
Quite frankly, Grand Bahamians are annoyed that Nassauvians are vociferously protesting Oban Energies, as if its potential impact would affect them. Truth be told, most Nassauvians do not know what is going on in Grand Bahama. I will even go out on a limb by saying that the overwhelming majority of Nassauvians have not even visited Grand Bahama before.
Yet they are the loudest in protesting Oban. Some Grand Bahamians feel as though these Nassauvians do not want to see the economic resurgance of Grand Bahama and Freeport. This leads me back to the object of my letter: Save The Bays. Its chairman, Joseph Darville, like his colleague, Fred Smith, QC, are both Grand Bahamians. Both are intimately aware of the severe economic hardship in Freeport. Yet both of them seem unwilling to endorse the Oban project for environmental reasons. Darville even went as far as mentioning Mother Earth in an interview with The Nassau Guardian about the Oban Energies saga. Mother Earth, in Greek mythology is none other than Gaia. Gaianism is nothing more than New Age spirituality which is centered around maintaining the stability of the earth. I am not suggesting that Darville is a New Ager. Far be it from me.
For all we know, the value of the Mother Earth myth to him and Save The Bays may be in its purported ability to give depth and significance to their conception of the ecosystem. Grand Bahama has a vibrant Christian community, as Darville is keenly aware of. Christians are called by God to be responsible stewards of the earth. While some Grand Bahamians are deeply appreciative of Save The Bays’ concern for the environment, there are those who view their current opposition to Oban as illogical.
If Darville and Co. are so hellbent in their opposition to Oban, even if an EIA proves favorable for Dhunna and his group of investors, logic then calls for Save The Bays to call for the immediate shutdown of Buckeye Bahamas Hub (BORCO), Statoil Bahamas, Polymers International, Pharmachem, Freeport Container Port, Bradford Marine and the Grand Bahama Shipyard. These entities have in their direct and indirect employment well over a thousand Grand Bahamians. That figure may even be near 2,000.
These industrial entities also pose a threat to the environment. In fact, BORCO sits smack in the southern communities of Grand Bahama. Pinder’s Point residents can literally pelt BORCO storage tanks with stones if they have the arm strength of former NFL legends Brett Favre and Dan Marino. In fact, both Statoil and BORCO have underwater oil pipes leading from their respective facilities to their oil jetties located a few miles offshore. Both of these facilities have been on Grand Bahama for decades. Yet I have never heard of any major or even minor oil spills. Both of their presence poses a risk.
Yet that risk is well worth it, considering the staggering financial impact BORCO and Statoil have had on Grand Bahama. If Save The Bays somehow, someway manages to shutdown the industrial sector, Grand Bahama would become another Acklins Island or Mayaguana. The economy would immediately evaporate. Had Grand Bahama been like Acklins or Mayaguana or Andros, would Fred Smith’s Callenders and Co. even be located there? It wouldn’t be financially feasible for a prestigious law firm such as Callenders and Co. to be located on an island with very limited economic activity.
Grand Bahamians remember that it was alleged that five members of an environmental group took home a combined salary of $740,000 in one year. That means that each of those environmentalists allegedly earned $148,000 in one year. That’s $12,333 a month or $2,846 a week. How many Bahamians earn $2,800 a month? Very few. Yet these persons are allegedly raking in that kind of money each week.
It is high time for Bahamians in general and Nassauvians in particular to look at the Oban proposal dispassionately. I believe Grand Bahamians are doing just that. Bahamians at times are hard to figure out. Just the other day there was a movement dubbed Fix Grand Bahama. This movement was created with the aim of prodding the Dr. Minnis’ Government to address the economy of Grand Bahama.
The Dr. Minnis Government rolled out the red carpet to a group of investors who want to pump a staggering $5.5 billion into the economy, yet now the government is encountering vehement opposition. It will be these very same Oban detractors who will be raising hell in 2022 about the Dr. Minnis Government not doing anything to stimulate the economy. I hope Save The Bays reassesses its position on this matter. I sincerely believe that most Grand Bahamians want to see Oban exceed. Save The Bays simply does not represent the position of mainstream Grand Bahama.
~ Kevin Evans