Associated Press Writer

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The Bahamas government said it will not consider new oil exploration or drilling applications for the vast archipelago’s waters until a “very stringent” environmental framework can be put in place.

The Environment Ministry will also review existing licenses in order to safeguard the 700 islands’ marine environment in the wake of the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

“Given recent events involving oil exploration and the efforts to prevent pollution, this prudent safeguard is essential to preserving,” the islands’ environment, the ministry said in comments e-mailed to The Associated Press.

The suspension affects London-listed company BPC PLC, which was formed to invest in an offshore exploration program across 6,052 square miles of Bahamian waters.

There has been no drilling in the Bahamas for two decades but BPC last month announced preliminary results of a seismic survey conducted on its licenses near Cuba that it says show promising signs of hydrocarbons. The company then applied to the Bahamas for exploration rights on an additional 1,389 square miles.

In a statement, BPC said it will continue to explore its five existing Bahamian licenses, most by the islands’ marine borders with Cuba, and that it expects the government’s ban on new applications to be a “short-term situation.”

“There are exploration activities, including drilling, proceeding in adjacent Cuban waters and significant previous drilling within the company’s current license areas that we believe we do not face the same geological risks as those encountered in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico,” chairman and CEO Alan Burns said in the statement.

The Bahamian ministry, which announced the suspension Aug. 30, did not disclose when officials hope to have updated environmental rules in place.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Canadian petroleum company CGX Energy Inc. expects to begin drilling for oil and natural gas deposits along Guyana’s eastern coast next year. Last month, Trinidad and Tobago signed a pact with Venezuela allowing shared exploration and exploitation of an offshore natural gas field on their maritime border.

For now, new deepwater drilling in U.S. waters is under a temporary moratorium while Washington toughens environmental reviews after the Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 workers and led to 206 million gallons of oil spewing from the undersea well.