Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is defending Government’s decision to conduct oil and gas exploration off the shores of Barbados, saying it is all part of a plan to diversify the economy and develop a sustainable renewable energy sector.
Stuart told the opening of the inaugural Caribbean Sustainable Renewable Energy conference at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre today, that drilling might seem at odds with his administration’s clean energy plan.
However, he said there was good reason for pursuing the project. It is not yet clear how soon drilling would begin.
Government and BHP Billiton in April last year signed exploration licences for two offshore blocks in Carlisle Bay and Bimshire as part of the much touted offshore petroleum programme, first announced in 2007.
The Black Belly block, located off the island’s west coast, was awarded to Spanish company Repsol in May of this year.
“Some may argue that this initiative could be at variance with the Government’s clean energy programme and the Government’s quest for a green economy. However, it is being done within the context of a strategy where we seek to capitalize on the opportunities highlighted under the Sustainable Energy Framework, while simultaneously pursuing opportunities of locating hydrocarbons in Barbados’ vast offshore.
“We have adopted the stance were the revenues gained from the offshore petroleum programme will be used to diversify the economy, to assist in developing the green economy and achieving our 100 per cent renewable energy goal, and to build up our foreign exchange reserves, since we recognize that fossil fuel is finite and not environmentally friendly,” Stuart said.
Stuart revealed that a national energy policy was being drafted, and would be presented to the public for discussion after it is reviewed by Cabinet.
Additionally, he said, Cabinet had agreed to establish a national task force on energy, consisting of stakeholders in the private and public sectors and non-governmental organizations.
The Prime Minister said the large sums of money spent by the region each year on the importation of fuel was undermining its competitiveness and limiting governments’ ability to pump more funds into critical areas such as health care and education.
Therefore, he advised his regional counterparts to ensure the renewable energy sector features prominently in their economic development plans.
“We in the Caribbean now stand at a crossroads in our development. In this 21st century we need to determine with some dispatch where we intend to be on this matter for the foreseeable future,” he recommended.
Stuart warned that the region could no longer afford electricity rates that are among the highest in the world, some five times higher than what exits in industrialized countries.
“We need to achieve Caribbean energy independence in order to safeguard our future. The question is, how can we achieve this goal?” asked Stuart.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister also announced that his administration would continue to import liquefied natural gas in the near and medium term to augment declining indigenous gas production, stating that without such product in the energy mix there would be “significant stranded assets” given the over 20,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers and the extensive pipeline infrastructure.