Saturday, April 20, 2024

THE ISSUE: Economic gains are real


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THE BENEFIT OF EXPLORING for and finding commercial quantities of hydrocarbons is obvious. It gives countries an opportunity to earn foreign exchange, while also saving currency they would otherwise have to spend importing oil and gas.

For a small nation like Barbados, which has access to negligible amounts of fuel onshore, and is therefore forced to purchase the oil products it needs from overseas, such major finds would be even more significant.

However, as has been shown several times internationally, there are also risks involved in oil exploration, especially in fragile marine eco-systems like the one surrounding Barbados. The marine environment, which is an important source for food for the population, and a means through which fisherfolk and others earn their living is a vital thing for small island nations like Barbados. Travel by sea is also important, since Barbados is a net importer of food, which comes via ships from the outside world.

In the context of last week’s signing of two licenses, to allow Australian company BHP Billiton to begin exploring deep in Barbados’ water to find out if there is significant amounts of oil and gas there, such issues are important. BHP Billiton’s journey into Barbados exclusive economic zone will not be the first time that an entity like that is doing so. Conoco made a similar effort more than 10 years ago, but the fact that BHP Billiton is likely to be doing so on a larger scale, and that Government is expected to award other licenses for additional companies to do so is an issue that should not be taken lightly.

Last week before he signed the licenses, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said while his administration was aware of the economic benefits a major oil and gas find would bring, it was also cognisant of the environmental issues involved.

“While the successful development and exploitation of Barbados’ potential offshore petroleum resources is of great importance and significance to the island, the Government will expect no less than the highest commitment to the preservation and protection of our coastal and marine environment as well as the communities in which BHP will operate,” he said in the presence of several officials from the Australian company.

A BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY examination of the Offshore Petroleum Regulations, which were proclaimed and inacted into law effective February 15, 2013, showed that BHP Billiton, and other companies to come, will have to abide by a number of environmental provisions.

The licensee will have to ensure it has an environmental managment system that addresses “waste management, including the production, transportation, storage, treatment and disposal of waste and the keeping of records, in respect of cuttings, drilling fluid and other waste generated by petroleum operations”.

This also related to the management of “hazardous waste, radioactive materials and waste, explosives, the disposal of oil, gas and liquids, produced water, [and] chemical management, including transportaiton and storage of chemicals and the keeping of records, [and] contingency management including resposes to oil and chemical spills, the management of oil, chemical and fire residue”.

Licensees were required to “review the environmental management system at least every five years to take account of any changes in activities , practices or organisation relevant to the environmental management system”.

The full list of regulations cover 101 pages and are supplemented by other offshore petroleum legislation.


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