By Candia Dames
25th April 2005
The local environmental group reEarth has launched a national campaign against liquefied natural gas projects in The Bahamas, but an official from the company has insisted that the plant and pipeline would be safe.
"AES from the very beginning has been fully committed to making sure that the facility is going to both meet all environmental [requirements] as well as being a very safe operation," said Robin Pence, vice president of communications for AES.
"We feel that we have met all conditions for both of those qualifications."
But reEarth officials continue to insist that LNG is dangerous.
"Liquefied natural gas is not flammable as long as it is contained," the group notes on its website. "If the containment facility is breached LNG reverts to natural gas and becomes a flammable vapour cloud when mixed with air. This cloud of plume can drift for miles until it reaches an ignition source – a cigarette could ignite it."
While Mrs. Pence did not speak specifically to this claim that LNG could be explosive, she reiterated that regulators both in the United States and The Bahamas have already approved the project.
"The [Bahamas Environment Science and Technology Commission] have reviewed the proposal from both an environmental and safety perspective and has approved it," she pointed out. "We believe that it’s going to provide a very good source of fuel for people in Florida by making sure that we are respectful, safe and environmentally-friendly for the people of The Bahamas."
But the local environmental group has urged Bahamians to ask themselves why AES is seeking to bring the project to The Bahamas and not the United States if it is so safe.
"Why should The Bahamas bear the brunt of the Untied States’ energy needs?" the group has questioned. "Across America from Florida to California and Canada to Mexico, LNG plants are coming under fire from communities that don’t want these plants near their communities. The United States should seriously be looking at alternative energies to support their burgeoning demands on the world’s energy resources."
The question of why AES chose The Bahamas was one Mrs. Pence quickly responded to.
"I think what has made this a good location is that it is an uninhabited island," she said. "It’s far from any tourist or population centre as opposed to being on the mainland and next to any population centre. So this is a remote island far from anything and from that perspective it has been deemed the best site and it is also the safest and most environmentally-friendly."
The company wants to build a regasification plant on Ocean Cay, near Bimini and transport LNG to South Florida via an undersea pipeline.
Wealthy residents of Cat Cay, located 7.8 miles away from Ocean Cay, have fiercely opposed the company’s proposal.
The Cat Cay residents say the facility would be too close to their backyards and could become a terrorist target.
At a town meeting on Cat Cay three weeks ago, Cat Cay Club President Manuel Diaz said residents would never support the project.
"The Bahamian flag represents bright sunshine, crystal clear blue waters and a black nation," Mr. Diaz said. "There are no LNG symbols on it and you can rest assured that it will be a very cold day in hell before that ever happens."
Mr. Diaz has also said that, "Supposedly, the government will collect $1 million in revenues and permanently create 35 jobs at the Ocean Cay industrial complex. Well, Cat Cay Yacht Club already contributes around $10 million annually to the overall Bahamian economy."
But Mrs. Pence also pointed to the economic benefits of the AES project.
"For The Bahamas it provides a source of revenue," she told The Bahama Journal.
"The project is estimated to make direct payments to the Government of The Bahamas of approximately $700 million over the first 25 years of operation. It would also create jobs over the two years in the construction phase and then permanent jobs for people who would maintain the facility."
Asked whether AES has been frustrated in the delays in getting the project approved, she said, "We certainly understand the need for the government to go through all the appropriate reviews to make sure that it has passed all the appropriate tests and that the community is supportive."
In early January, Prime Minister Perry Christie had said on a local talk show that the AES project would have been approved by the end of that month.
But he later indicated that the vehement objection from Cat Cay residents resulted in the government delaying approval.
It is now unclear when – and if – the controversial AES project will get the governmental green light, although company officials remain hopeful that it will.