Setting the chairman straight
March 26, 2011
The Telegram (St. John’s, NL)
Mary Gorman and Irene Novaczek
We need to clarify misleading comments made by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board’s chairman, Max Ruelokke, in “Chairman sets the record straight,” March 17.
The chairman states the CNLOPB “does not have responsibility for promoting the industry.” But it issues calls for bids, collects huge fees, allows oil companies to monitor themselves and keeps environmental effects confidential. How does it decide what areas to open for bid? By industry input? Not public input.
The CNLOPB says “facilitating development” while protecting marine species does not place the agency in a conflict of interest. This contradicts the Wells Inquiry and the U.S., U.K., Norway and Australia, which have separate agencies for safety, environmental protection and promotion.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence is one of the only coastal regions in North America not under moratorium. Drilling is banned on the B.C. coast, Georges Bank, U.S. east and west coasts and eastern Gulf of Mexico. Yet our semi-landlocked gulf, with coastlines on half of Canada’s provinces, is up for grabs.
Are the gulf’s multi-billion-dollar renewable tourism and fishery industries sacrificial lambs under the CNLOPB? Yes. Because the CNLOPB is in denial about how serious the stakes are, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that the Gulf of St. Lawrence, habitat to over 2,000 species, is a unique and fragile ecosystem that empties into the Atlantic Ocean only once a year.
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill covered an area the size of our entire gulf and now people are sick and dying there.
A decade ago, when leases were issued by Nova Scotia’s board, it was determined at a public review that our gulf has “sensitive life stages of marine organisms present year around,” according to DFO scientists.
Scientists expressed concern about profound gaps in knowledge. For example, where does lobster larvae travel? No one knows. How can drilling be allowed when no one knows what we are impacting?
Even when the CNLOPB does have adequate knowledge, it ignores information. Development takes precedence in violation of the Species At Risk Act. Last October, after receiving science from whale experts warning against the risks, CNLOPB allowed seismic to proceed when endangered blue whale and cod were migrating through the Laurentian Channel, a.k.a. the “blue whale highway.”
The CNLOPB says it “will not issue an authorization to operate… unless that company is able to meet legislative requirements.” In 30 years of operation, has the CNLOPB ever said no to a project to protect sensitive areas? The CNLOPB has opened up most of the coastline of western Newfoundland and Labrador, even Gros Morne National Park. How does it justify leasing out a national park when shoreline leases are banned almost everywhere else in the world?
Either the CNLOPB’s regulatory regime is not robust or it believes nothing deserves protection, not even the most sensitive marine region in North America.
The CNLOPB says, “safety is paramount in all board decisions followed by environmental protection.” We say its resistance to change after the death of 17 offshore workers indicates how well it regulates safety.
The CNLOPB says, “promotion and marketing of the industry is a role for governments, not the board.”
Governments’ most vital role is to protect the public interest and the common resources of the people, such as air, water and food, like renewable gulf fish that have sustained us for centuries. If governments would stop promoting industry at the expense of the resources we need to inhabit this Earth, our children’s future might be brighter.
The CNLOPB refuses to acknowledge that applications it reviews impact historic stakeholders in our gulf, both inside and outside Newfoundland and Labrador’s jurisdiction.
Unlike land, water moves, and migrating species swim through provincial boundaries.
If the CNLOPB is incapable of grasping that a single body of water cannot be cut up like a fish cake, it should not be in the role of environmental protection. It should be dismantled.
Mary Gorman writes for Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition in Merigomish, N.S.
Dr. Irene Novaczek writes from the Institute of Island Studies at UPEI.