Jamaica has struck oil, black gold. After many years of speculation and guessing it was confirmed early in 2018 that Jamaica does indeed have oil deposits which may be feasible enough to exploit.

Normally this would be greeted by cheers of joy and delirium as we in this country continue to suffer under the yoke of exorbitant fuel costs, and this oil could hypothetically be used to ease the burden on the budget. This would also be cause for celebration as the oil industry is labour intensive, specialised and offers big bucks and would, therefore, lead to greater employment and higher incomes.

Forty years ago this would have been excellent news. Unfortunately, in the 21st century, this news is useless and the idea of exploiting these deposits is masochistic and insane. The idea of extracting, refining and exporting oil from Jamaica in this day and age is not a good one when the pros and cons are weighed, especially since we see the cons so clearly.

The pros are simple and easy to understand — jobs and money. This would be a windfall to the Jamaican economy and could transform us as it relates to shipping (fitting in neatly with the logistics hub). It is easy to be swayed by the promises of riches and persons showing you the current value of a barrel of oil (coupled with data that oil prices will go high and remain high) but to do that is to ignore the cons which are long-term and more impactful on the country.

It should not be news to anyone that the globe is heating up at alarming rates, nor should it be news that human activity is a key reason for this. Most people understand and accept that the use of oil and other fossil fuels exacerbates this global warming and as such countries have come together to try and combat this, one such way being the elimination of the use of fossil fuels. Why then would we even entertain the thought of bringing up this substance? Are we not signatories to these deals? Are we not impacted by this global warming phenomenon and therefore can go about our merry business?

This is a country that experiences droughts on a yearly basis, droughts which seem to be both longer and hotter. This is a nation that experiences storms in seasons when we never used to have them and storms, when in season, are more frequent and stronger. Both of these affect the nation and the economy in so many negative ways — ways that oil couldn’t solve but would, in fact, be the perpetrator.

Leaving aside the impact on the climate, let us look at the impacts on the environment and the fact that everywhere oil companies have prospected and extracted has seen environmental degradation. Parts of Nigeria have been turned into virtual wastelands as oil spills happen and inept clean-up processes fail to catch all the sludge. The Gulf of Mexico and the fishermen there are still feeling the effects of the oil rig which blew out as fish stocks remain low and the underwater fauna struggles to recover from the damage. Parts of the Amazon have been totally destroyed as the search for and extraction of oil continue in that part of the world (and we haven’t even talked about the health impacts).

This is not even mentioning the facts that oil prospecting and drilling have the real potential to turn this already corrupt country into the poster boy of that dreadful art (see the oil curse). Further proof of the insanity of even thinking of this can be found in the new-fangled ways they have of extracting oil. Fracking, as is practised in parts of the US, has led to the poisoning of water tables, sickness in the communities surrounding the operations, and ecological damage. On top of this, fracking also causes earthquakes, some minor and some major,  but always in the high dozens per year.

We need energy, but we don’t need it at all costs and we don’t need this type specifically, so why are we not having more of a national debate on the issue? Why have we not had serious debates about changing laws to make it easier for homeowners to buy and install solar panels? Why have we not had serious debates about hydro-electricity (we are, after all, the land of wood and water)? Why have we not looked seriously into bio-waste energy and energy derived from plants (corn or sugar)? Why are we so insistent on utilising this product which will only bring harm to us in the long run (even if we personally don’t use the oil), a harm which the little benefits will not be able to negate?

There should be no debate, the oil should stay in the ground and we should start thinking about alternative energy sources to power our country. We don’t need the drama, both short term and long term, which comes along with oil. We need to focus on fixing our environment, which has been damaged, and preparing for the future impacts of climate change.

The fact is the exploiting of this oil will be a retrograde step, especially as nations have set concrete deadlines on the elimination of gasoline. We should not think about it, pretend it is not there and actively seek alternative energy sources. To use this deadly asset will only come back to haunt us in the not too distant future.

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