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Bahamas plans deep water oil drilling. First site is 150 miles off South Florida

The Bahamas plans to soon start drilling for oil -- just 150 miles off the coast of South Florida.

Bahamas Petroleum Company said in a regulatory filing earlier this year that it will drill its first exploration well, called Perseverance #1, in deep offshore waters as early as April. The company said preliminary seismic testing showed the area has potential oil reserves of more than 2 billion barrels.

The Bahamas is only the latest island nation to hunt for black gold that lies under turquoise waters -- a trend that environmentalists say poses a slew of potential threats to marine systems from the Caribbean to Florida.

“We believe this is an activity that poses significant risk to the environment and tourism in the area,’” Diane Hoskins, a campaign director for the conservation nonprofit Oceana, which hopes to mount opposition to the Bahamas’ plans.

Drilling off Florida shores has long been opposed by environmentalists and many Florida politicians protective of an economy powered in part by tourists drawn to pristine beaches.

Memories of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill remain fresh along the Gulf Coast and in the Florida Keys and state leaders have pressured President Donald Trump to extend a ban on oil and gas drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico beyond its expiry in 2022, with the backing of coastal tourism communities, real estate associations and environmentalists in Florida.

According to the Bahamas Petroleum Company’s statement, the first well will be located at a depth of approximately 1,700 feet but could be as deep as 18,000 feet. The test well is targeted for a location over 100 miles from Andros Island, and sits in a shipping lane next to the maritime border with Cuba.

“Perseverance #1 has the potential to open a world class, new frontier basin offshore Bahamas, less than 200 miles from the world’s largest hydrocarbon market,” Simon Potter, BPC’s chief executive, said in the filing. He said prospects for oil exploration in the area have the potential to “transform the revenue generation capacity of the Bahamian economy.”

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, the monster storm that struck the Bahamas with punishing 185 mph sustained winds and 25-feet storm surges in September last year, there’s growing pressure in the country to boost economic activity and create jobs. The storm caused an estimated $3.4 billion in damages, according to a report by the Inter-American Development Bank. The economy’s rising debt and persistently high unemployment were exacerbated by Dorian, the IDB said.

BPC is focused on oil exploration in the archipelago. It has five licenses for oil drilling covering approximately 6,180 square miles in the territorial waters of the Bahamas.

Countries across the Caribbean also have increasingly pushed oil and gas exploration after Guyana discovered commercial quantities in 2015. The Bahamas will join Jamaica, Barbados, and Grenada in ramping up efforts to conduct testing and prepare for offshore exploration wells this year. Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago already produce oil from offshore fields.

This story was originally published March 4, 2020 11:25 AM.

Adriana Brasileiro covers environmental news at the Miami Herald. Previously she covered climate change, business, political and general news as a correspondent for the world’s top news organizations: Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones - The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, based in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Santiago.
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