Volume No. 1 Issue No. 95 - Monday March 27, 2007|
An oil refinery and Dominica's sustainable development
By Mahala Shillingford
First let me say that I do not support an oil refinery being placed in Dominica. Like Mark Twain once said and I believe, “Our opinions do not really blossom into fruition until we have expressed them to someone else”.
My opposition to the refinery stems from many factors, but it is not opposition carved in stone. If the concerns that I and others raise are without merit or can be mitigated so be it, but we will never know unless we have a factual discussion for and against this endeavor.
This is not a political fight. This is not to place blame. This is not about who our friends are. This is about the future of our country and the livelihood of Dominican Citizens residing in Dominica.
The long term goal of our country and I am sure that of our Government, who have stated that they will entertain all discussion on the subject of oil refining, should be sustainable development.
“Sustainable development is a collection of methods to create and sustain development which seeks to relieve poverty, create equitable standards of living, satisfy the basic needs of all peoples, and establish sustainable political practices all while taking the steps necessary to avoid irreversible damages to natural capital in the long term…for short term benefits by reconciling development projects with the regenerative capacity of the natural environment.”
This excerpt on Sustainable Development came from the Wikipedia website and appears to sum up my understanding of what sustainable development is.
If we move on from this definition of sustainable development, key components of which appear to be reconciling long term development without irreversible damage to natural capital for short term benefits, we owe it to our country and Government to assist as best we can in the decision making process.
Let us discuss oil refining. If anyone out there has information that mitigates or refutes any of my arguments by all means bring them forth. But let us not proceed with innuendo and rhetoric devoid of facts.
We cannot succumb to character assassination in this argument. This is not about us as individuals, it is about the long term survival of our country. Please, let us debate the facts.
The pros of an oil refinery presented thus far have all been in reducing the price of fuel / electricity in Dominica. The poverty of the nation makes this an admirable goal.
The utilization of fossil fuels when the rest of the world is either seeking to move away from it or fighting wars over it, does not bode well for a sustainable future when we do not possess the necessary resource for oil refining, oil.
Oil may be a natural resource, but its processing into usable products pollutes the environment. This, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is indisputable.
Please see for just one short discussion on refinery pollutants. Oil refining is a stepwise process dependant on the type of crude received, the source of the crude and the process of refining.
At each stage there are pollutants, health and safety issues. This web link outlines the cradle to grave crude refining process. It’s a site that can hardly be discredited using the argument that it originates with the US Government, because they are arguably the most pro – oil government on this planet.
Oil refining pollution cannot and does not occur only through direct bi-product release to rivers and soil. Rivers and soil can become polluted due to the exhaust from the oil refining process as well.
This exhaust migrates into the atmosphere, it becomes trapped by the clouds and it falls back to earth with rainstorms, something we have in abundance.
This acid rain that is created falls back to the earth with the possibility of creating dead zones for animal and plant life whether they reside in the rivers, land or the sea where the rivers eventually end up.
Placing the oil refinery in coastal areas may alleviate the direct pollution of the rivers and soil (though not the indirect), but what of the coastal waters or do those not matter? What of the marine life (the whale population we advertize) on which so many depend for sustenance?
This website discusses the challenges facing the oil industry, mitigation options and summarizes the choices faced between pollution and profit. It is a must read in considering placing an oil refinery in Dominica.
Another factor that concerns me about this oil refining endeavor is the fact that we have no laws to govern such an undertaking. If we decide that an oil refinery is the best option for us we must have laws in place that govern the industry, prior to erecting and operating an oil refinery.
What are the acceptable emissions? Where will waste products be deposited? Do we have clean water or clean air acts that forces the company to act in the event of an accident, or requires them to maintain certain levels of emissions?
If we do enact clean water and clean air acts do we have the necessary expertise or will to carry out the testing to ensure compliance?
If the company is found out of compliance with air and water or other safety laws do we have a mechanism in place to fine and demand restitution? We cannot enter into a deal that places us at a disadvantage in a realistic future situation.
Because we are discussing an industry whose very resource we do not possess, neither are we a vital customer, we will be at a disadvantage in this process.
If we threaten to enact laws after the industry is in operation it is a simple process for the company to threaten to leave if we attempt to pass laws, the compliance with which will result in an economic burden on the company. Then where will we be when this industry pulls up stakes?
What of the health burden as well? Do we have Occupational and Safety Laws in place to protect all those working for the company? If there are accidents and someone gets hurt, who pays?
Are we also looking at upgrading our health system to cope with the increase in perhaps upper respiratory issues, or more long term debilitating issues? Who among us would deliberately choose to reside in close proximity to an oil refinery?
Shouldn’t we know the worst that could happen and be prepared for it according to its risk?
What is our guarantee from the company for quantities of crude oil? How long do they guarantee that we will have the required oil, a year, two years, three years? Will we be negotiating the price of the oil, monthly, bi-annually, annually? Exactly how many jobs will this create and what type of jobs will they be? Will it be menial labor?
Has a 20 year present worth analysis been done showing a profit to both Dominica and the company, given population and industry development projections for this 20 year period?
Keep in mind that the company must make a profit off this in order for them to sustain it. And for how long will we utilize this refinery? What is the period of use that makes the refinery’s risk acceptable?
We have already entered into a PetroCaraibe agreement that should reduce our fuel costs, why must friendship mean we have to also buy into being a surrogate state?
When I initially heard of the oil refinery proposition my first thoughts were that fighting this is useless without proposing and acting on alternatives. Now this is the beauty of not only Dominica but the current global situation where the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just generated a report dispelling what was left of the global climate change myths.
We are at a critical juncture in the world. We are seating on a vast renewable resource for which there is current environmentally friendly technology for its utilization in electricity generation.
The following are a few websites that may help with information:geothermal.marin.org , www.energyquest.ca.gov/story/chapter11.html , www1.eere.energy.gov/geothermal/ , iga.igg.cnr.it/index.php.
The harnessing of this resource (geothermal energy) for electricity would reduce electrical rates to a fraction of what it is today. These are technology and processes that could be up and running within two years. This is a resource that we possess. No one could put us at a disadvantage for its use. It is ours, our heritage.
Look at Brazil. Brazil is at the forefront of replacing fossil fuel (oil) transportation dependence with energy independence. They are relying on ethanol derived from sugar cane for their transportation fuel needs.
Currently Brazil, a country of over 188 million people, and with over 10 million vehicles, is utilizing just 1 half of 1% of its land mass for sugar cane production for ethanol fuel.
The following site discusses ethanol generation for fuel running_on_alcohol.tripod.com/ . Is this a viable option for us? I don’t know I haven’t looked at the logistics, but can we do this?
I do know it would be difficult to accomplish in the US because there are 300 million people, but Dominica has 70,000. We are speaking of magnitudes of scale less when we speak of Dominica. On an island scale this offers employment to farmers, the core of our society.
If we can do this we can supply our own transportation fuel. We will never be able to export it, because we don’t have enough land to make it viable when we consider the potential for Brazil (competing with Brazil would result in our current banana situation), even if the entire island was razed and used for sugar cane farming.
However, we may be able to provide for our own transportation needs if it’s environmentally feasible.
I’m certain there are other options out there. These are just suggestions that come to mind but without discussion how do we know what we can achieve?
A sustainable industry for us will be what we have in abundance, and that is our ecology. All our roads lead back to eco-tourism as the most sustainable industry for Dominica. Focusing on Eco-tourism requires that we pass and enforce strong environmental laws. In addition, we must make ourselves more recognized. Will it take time? Yes. Everything does.
But that does not mean we give up and that does not mean we leave it to a few to accomplish. Let us harness all our resources in a sustainable manner to further our greatness.
What we have is too precious and too beautiful to scar for short term goals and the betterment of others when we have other, much painless and more effective options. Everything has risk, but in order to prepare for them we MUST identify the predictable ones.
Lastly, do our friendships require that we sell our souls to maintain them or that we swear fealty? If they do we are simply trading one colonial master for another. And that is not progress.
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