By Taneka Thompson
Nassau Guardian Senior Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas -- A team from Cuba will be in The Bahamas within the next two weeks to discuss “mutual interests” relating to oil drilling, minister of the environment and housing Kenred Dorsett said on Tuesday.
Dorsett noted on Sunday that Russian interests have begun drilling for oil near Bahamian territory, not far south of Guinchos Cay.
He said on Tuesday, “In the next 14 days a delegation from Cuba will be in the country for us to discuss environmental matters of mutual concern having regard to the fact that the Russians are drilling just 12 miles away from our territorial waters.
“And when one considers the potential environmental impact to The Bahamas with respect to what they are doing, there is need for ongoing discussions between us and the Cubans.”
Last month, Dorsett and minister of state for legal affairs Damian Gomez visited Cuba to discuss both countries’ interest in oil exploration and the need for tough environmental laws.
Dorsett added that draft legislation containing the necessary regulations and framework for oil exploration and drilling should be before Cabinet within the next few weeks.
However, he did not say when these regulations will be made public.
“In my discussions with the attorney general’s office, I am of the belief that within the next few weeks we should have a draft before Cabinet,” Dorsett said.
“…This is a matter of public interest, and so I certainly will be meeting with environmentalists, those who are interested, and discussing the draft regulatory framework.
“An entire regulatory regime will be advanced, and as far as the renewal of their licenses there will be ongoing discussions with them even regarding the financial terms.
“So I’m not going to preempt that process, but certainly you will be hearing more from us on that in the future.”
Dorsett announced on Sunday that the government will allow the drilling of an exploratory oil well to determine if the country has commercially viable oil reserves, before it holds a referendum on the topic.
He said the exploration data needed to verify if the country has enough petroleum reserves to justify drilling would not be available until the end of 2014 or early 2015.
The government is not expected to hold an oil drilling referendum before the second half of 2015, depending on the outcome of the exploration, Dorsett said.
After the announcement, Free National Movement leader Dr Hubert Minnis called for strict regulations to be enacted before an exploratory well is dug to ensure that the environment is protected.
“It’s a very dangerous road to tread without having proper regulations in place,” he said on Monday.
“We’ve seen what happened in the Gulf [of Mexico].
“For something like that to happen in The Bahamas, where 80 percent of our employment depends on tourism, whether direct or indirect, that can be a disaster for this nation.”
The Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) was granted five oil exploration licenses in April 2007, the company’s website notes.
To date BPC has invested $50 million in the country, most of that spent on 3D seismic testing, according to the company.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian