Save Our Seas and Shores critical of Strategic Environmental Assessment update of Old Harry – “phony” public consultations

L to R: Leonard LeBlanc (President, Lobster Council of Canada) and Ronnie Heighton (President, Northumberland Fishermen’s Association) spoke at our October 11, 2012 press conference.

L to R: Leonard LeBlanc (Cheticamp, NS fisherman and Treasurer of Gulf NS Fleet Planning Board) and Ronnie Heighton (River John, NS fisherman and President of Gulf NS Fleet Planning Board) spoke at our October 11, 2012 press conference.

Angela Giles (Council of Canadians), Gretchen Fitzgerald (Sierra Club Atlantic), Mary Gorman (Save Our Seas and Shores), Leonard LeBlanc (Lobster Council of Canada) and Ronnie Heighton (Northumberland Fishermen’s Association) at October 11, 2012 press conference in Sydney, NS

Angela Giles (Council of Canadians), Gretchen Fitzgerald (Sierra Club Atlantic), Mary Gorman (Save Our Seas and Shores), Leonard LeBlanc (Gulf NS Fleet Planning Board – Treasurer) and Ronnie Heighton (Gulf NS Fleet Planning Board – President) at October 11, 2012 press conference in Sydney, NS

Following our September 25th press release and CBC Fisheries Broadcast interview, this joint press conference highlighted the inadequacies of the “phony” public consultations being hosted by the Canada – Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, (C-NLOPB) as part of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) update of ‘Old Harry’ and Western NL’s Gulf waters, ordered by Environment Minister Peter Kent last year.

“Unfortunately, these alleged consultations are not transparent or democratic. What makes them even worse is that they appear to have little to do with the environment,” said Mary Gorman, of the Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition. “With tens of thousands of renewable jobs at stake in our tourism and fishing industries, the Gulf’s coastal communities deserve to be taken more seriously than this.”

“The Gulf of St. Lawrence is a significant Canadian ecosystem, home to over 2,000 marine species that spawn, nurse and migrate year round including numerous species at risk – such as the endangered blue whale, which has only 250 adults remaining in its North Atlantic population,” said Gretchen Fitzgerald, Executive Director of Sierra Club, Atlantic Chapter. “Seismic testing has already been allowed in the migratory pathway of the blue whale by the C-NLOPB, which reflects the Board’s poor judgement.”

“We are not confident that this board and this so-called consultation will protect this ecosystem. We have serious concerns that everything is being put in place for a rubber stamp approval of drilling in spite of the risks to the environment,” Fitzgerald added.

The coalition says these unelected offshore petroleum boards are in a conflict of interest as both promoters of development and protectors of the environment who do not have the scientific expertise to competently address complex marine ecosystems. The coalition is calling on the federal government to get rid of these unelected provincial petroleum boards in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and to reinstate federal marine protection for this sensitive inland sea.

Professor Angela Carter, in an interview with the Western Star, August 30, 2012 noted that the “conflicting actions”of Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board present a dilemma.

“‘Either you are going to be careful about development and you are going to engage the public in a real way, or you are not,’ she said. ‘It looks like the board has made a decision that it is going to move forward with west coast oil development irrespective of what comes out of that strategic environmental assessment.’ That risk to the credibility of the process expands to questions of the motives of the board and ultimately the federal and provincial governments, according to Carter. There is the possibility of an economic boom from oil and gas, but there are also risks of environmental and socio-economic disaster, argues the university professor.”

“These phony consultations reflect the fallout from the Harper government’s deep and undemocratic cuts to Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans over the past year,” said Angela Giles, Atlantic Regional Organizer for the Council of Canadians. “The Gulf of St. Lawrence borders five provinces: Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Quebec. The fishery alone in the region has an estimated value of $1.5 billion annually.”

“With five provincial coastlines at risk, the Gulf of St. Lawrence is becoming the Northern Gateway Pipeline of the East,” said Giles. “Oil and gas exploration in the Gulf is a matter of national interest and deserves federal protection. It is time for the Harper administration to acknowledge the error of its ways and to reinstate federal laws protecting marine ecosystems.”

“It is unacceptable for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to pass the buck on protecting our fishery to unelected provincial offshore petroleum boards,” said Herbie Nash, a fishery representative and inshore fisherman for 47 years. “Fishermen where I live had not even heard about this proposed development, nor have we been consulted. Where is the accountability in this process?”

In an interview with MaxFM 98.3, Herbie Nash said “If something goes wrong, the tide always comes to the south and southeast, and we’re right southeast of it… so our shores are the ones that are going to suffer.. and we’re going to be the biggest losers.” He adds there is a compensation package but “the 30 million dollars is not enough. Down in the Gulf [of Mexico] they spent tens of billions of dollars cleaning that up and it’s still not cleaned up”.

Marilyn Clark Corner Brook

(Credit: Gary Kean/The Western Star)
Marilyn Clark at Cornerbrook, Newfoundland consultation.

The consultations started in Newfoundland in early October. Marilyn Clark, who is from the Magdalen Islands, is a member of Save Our Seas and Shores. She attended all four public meetings in western Newfoundland and told media that “the consultation process lacked an organized exchange of information between the industry and the public”. According to the press, she said “there should have been more information and open dialogue on the impact the industry could have on the environment, aquatic spawning areas and wildlife migration patterns, the gaps in data that exist and the plans for mitigation in the event of an accidental spill of oil along the coast.”

Save Our Seas and Shores members in PEI were equally disappointed. Andrew Lush, manager of the Hunter-Clyde Watershed Group, told CBC news that the October 10 session in Charlottetown, PEI was not what he was expecting. “They’re not really public consultations,” said Lush. “There was just basically maps and boards up and people to talk to and a sheet to fill in.”

Irene Novaczek,director of UPEI’s Institute of Island Studies called it a “dog and pony show”, saying to CBC that “This is a number of posters on walls. There’s no opportunity for people to be at a mic, voicing concerns.”

Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition did encourage supporters to make written submissions to the C-NLOPB’s Western NL Strategic Environmental Assessment, despite the flawed process, because it is currently the only way to voice concerns. With the stalling of Bernard Richard’s review of the Old Harry project, and recent gutting of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act we must “participate” in all possible ways. To that end, Save Our Seas and Shores wrote a joint submission with Gulf NS Herring Federation and submitted this on October 22, 2012.

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