By Huey Lewis, musician and fisherman
The recording studio is a forgiving place. There are endless opportunities to explore, edit and remix. If need be, you can do it over.
Not so oil drilling on the open seas. As the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster showed, there are no do-overs, and the results can be catastrophic.
That’s why a little-noticed, poorly regulated and dangerously rushed project to begin exploratory oil drilling just 150 miles from the Florida Keys in the next two weeks needs to be stopped. Immediately.
From Maine to Florida, there is near unanimous support from citizens, governments and businesses to ban oil drilling and exploration in the Atlantic. Earlier this year, President Trump belatedly — but fortunately — extended a 10-year moratorium on drilling from Virginia to Florida.
But while U.S. citizens were focused on our own back yard, we missed a looming threat next door, in the Bahamas. Two weeks ago, a massive 750-foot drilling ship set sail from the Canary Islands, and by the end of the month, it is planned to anchor and begin drilling at a spot 150 miles southeast of the Florida Keys. Another block under license for drilling is just 60 miles east of Miami.
This is worrisome on so many levels. The company licensed to do the work, Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC), has minimal experience drilling. The Stena IceMAX is the ship that is steaming toward anchor. It has a checkered safety record, including an incident four years ago at a drilling site near Nova Scotia in which it dropped a huge piece of equipment in rough seas and nearly hit a wellhead about 6,500 feet below the surface. Analysts called the incident a “near disaster” and “much too close to a worst-case scenario.”
I have a dog in this fight: I have gone bonefishing in the Bahamas for years. It’s a responsible, catch-and-release sport that occurs in the shallow waters that surround the almost 700 coral islands that make up the Bahamas archipelago.
With its sensitive marine habitat and reliance on tourism, an oil spill in the Bahamas would be an unmitigated calamity. BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout involved the same sort of exploratory drilling that the Stena IceMax will conduct, and that disaster killed 11 workers, gushed 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and delivered a $22.7 billion hit to Gulf tourism and $8.7 billion to fisheries.
Oil from a spill would foul huge stretches of the U.S. East Coast, and neither the Bahamas nor BPC has the capacity to deal with such a disaster. And it would devastate the Bahamian economy, already reeling from the global pandemic and still recovering from Hurricane Dorian.
This is not a gamble we should make.
Given the imminent start of drilling, the U.S. government should assert its interests by pushing the Bahamas to abandon this project. Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis should take urgent action to block the drilling. Bahamian courts should prevent any drilling while they complete a pending judicial review. And the project should undergo a new Environmental Authorization and Environmental Impact Assessment before being allowed to proceed, if ever.
Huey Lewis is a Grammy Award-winning musician whose band, Huey Lewis and the News, has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide. He is an avid bone fisher.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.