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2003-06-18 20:17:11

Lot Of Selling Needed On Oil-Well Benefits

Oil has been found in The Bahamas, but not in useful quantities, despite half a century of serious prospecting.

Nevertheless, geologists say it is very likely commercial quantities do exist within The Bahamas' 200-mile economic zone. Small oilfields were discovered in South Florida in the 1940s in sediments similar to those in the Bahamas, and there are small oil seeps and fields along the northern edge of the Cuban coast.

From 1945 to 1971, four exploratory wells were drilled in The Bahamas by Gulf Oil and Chevron, off Andros, Cay Sal, Long Island and Great Isaacs Cay. Despite evidence of oil and gas, the potential recovery costs were judged too high at the time.

Then came the oil-price shocks of the 1970s, followed by new geological studies that concluded oil and gas deposits did exist in the South Florida Bahamas Basin. This set off a wave of excitement amongst Bahamians and, in 1979, the government began leasing large areas of the seabed to big oil companies for more test drilling.

Our first petroleum act was passed at the end of the Second World War and updated in 1965 and again in 1971. It took another seven years for the government to introduce new regulations governing oil exploration. At least half a dozen companies paid for licenses at that time.

In recent months, there has been another flurry of interest in oil exploration here, with new licenses expected to be given out. Trade & Industry Minister Leslie Miller told last year's PLP convention the government was looking forward to collecting millions of dollars in licensing fees and royalties should oil be found.

(We wonder why this potential windfall wasn't factored into the budget.)

But against the obvious economic benefits of oil production, we must weigh the tremendous environmental costs. A disaster on the scale of offshore leaks and tanker accidents in other parts of the world could do serious and irreparable harm to our marine ecosystems and tourist industry. And we would likely be short on the expensive resources needed to cope with such an emergency.

Looks like another job for Mr. Miller's travelling town-meeting caravan.

Editorial, The Nassau Guardian

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