The disastrous impact of Hurricane Dorian on Grand Bahama, which caused an as-yet undisclosed amount of oil to spill from the South Riding Point storage facility, should teach the government a lesson and lead to a definitive rejection of the notorious Oban refinery proposal before it is too late.
Fred Smith, legal director of of Save the Bays, said the government would be “insane” to continue courting another dangerous and reckless facility of this kind.
“The situation in Freeport today, where the coastline is polluted with heavy, dirty fuel oil, the water table is contaminated and residents have been told they must avoid the water supply, should serve as a dire warning,” he said. “The time has come to close the door on this potentially disastrous flirtation with the Oban proposal.
“The government will have to ensure Equinor urgently cleans up the South Riding Point and High Rock area. They would be insane to create an even larger threat to the pristine and ecologically invaluable eastern end of the island.”
Smith said oil refineries are bastions of an outdated and defunct form of energy production and produce very few jobs for locals with the profits all being shipped overseas into the bank accounts of foreign owners.
“It is, and has always been a lose–lose scenario for Bahamians and the time has come to put an end to it. The government must tell Oban to take a hike,” he said. “Climate change means that storms will only get stronger and more frequent; a disaster on the scale of South Riding Point or even greater is not a question of if, only a question of when.”
The Norwegian oil company Equinor claims it is working to clean up the oil spilled from its terminal when Hurricane Dorian blew the tops off oil storage tanks, but according to STB chairman Joseph Darville, there is no evidence of this to date.
Darville visited the site of the spill last week and was alarmed to find evidence of the oil contamination at least a mile and a half away. The roof of the company’s building appeared to have been stained by the oil slick which, riding on Dorian’s storm surge, had reached 35-feet high. He said the canopy of the surrounding pine forest was saturated with oil at the same level for a distance of 400 meters from the oil plant.
“The beach in High Rock, east of the terminal, was befouled with oil for more than a mile and a half,” he said. “I have no idea how far the oil drifted south into the water, but if you consider that the wind was coming from the north and, with gusts well above 200mph, was so strong that it pushed a storm surge over 30 feet high, the consequences for the seabed and marine life on the south side of Grand Bahama are terrifying to contemplate.
“We saw no one doing any kind of clean-up,” he said. “In fact the only people we saw were two security guards, who told us we were not allowed to fly our drone to take aerial shots of the spill. “In the area immediately surrounding the plant, oil is settling into all of the puddles and low spaces. Worst of all, it has permeated our water table, which sits only three feet below the surface through porous limestone rock.”
Darville congratulated the Grand Bahama Port Authority for recognising the danger this poses to the health and safety of the public, warning residents not to use the water supply for drinking or washing. But, he said, he knows of no plan in place to restore safe water supply to the island.
“I warned the Grand Bahama Utility Company that they needed reserve tanks for the island in case the water table became contaminated, but they ignored me. Perhaps they too would do well to learn a lesson from this,” he said. Regarding the proposed Oban oil refinery project in East Grand Bahama, Darville was adamant. “This is a warning,” he declared, “that we need to permanently shelve this foolish, asinine, ignorant proposal for good. It would be unconscionable for the government to move forward with this proposal now.”