oil_rig.jpegNASSAU, Bahamas (AP) – The Bahamas government says it will allow offshore oil exploration and put off a referendum on drilling until it is determined whether there are commercial quantities of oil in the sensitive waters of the island chain east of the U.S.

Environmental Minister Kenred Dorsett said the government would not likely know if there are commercially viable reserves until late 2014 at the earliest.

Dorsett said Sunday the earliest a referendum could be held would be the following year.

Offshore oil drilling is sensitive in the Bahamas, where many fear a spill could devastate the fishing and tourism industries. Dorsett issued a statement Sunday saying the country would adopt new environmental regulations.

He said the search for oil in nearby Cuba suggests Bahamas also has offshore reserves.