Lobster fisherman wary of Gulf of St. Lawrence oil drilling
FRAM DINSHAW STAFF REPORTER
Published May 10, 2016 – 6:25pm
Last Updated May 11, 2016 – 8:55am
As lobster season gets underway Tuesday in Cape Breton, a top local fisherman is warning that oil exploration and drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence could wreak havoc on local marine life.
“It could ruin our industry,” said Jordan MacDougall, president of the Inverness South Fisherman’s Association.
He warned that any oil spill would settle on the seabed — prime lobster habitat — and devastate their populations.
“You wouldn’t be able to sell your product and it would probably give Canada a negative name for that product from other areas,” said MacDougall.
His comments come just four months after regulators granted a one-year extension on an oil exploration licence for Corridor Resources Inc. at the Old Harry site off the western coast of Newfoundland, in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
But some warn that drilling for oil at Old Harry may detonate a ticking time bomb.
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, a 10,000-barrel oil spill at Old Harry in winter would hit the coasts of Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Les Iles de-la-Madeleine, which belong to Quebec. Simulations at other times of year also predict oil hitting the west and southern coastline of Newfoundland.
The areas that would be worst-affected by any spill would likely vary between seasons, but the Gulf of Saint Lawrence’s prevailing current runs anti-clockwise, which would push oil away from the open Atlantic and potentially endanger all five provinces bordering it.
“The Gulf of Saint Lawrence should be off-limits for drilling because it’s an extremely valuable marine area in terms of fisheries — lobster, tuna, snow crab, as well as herring,” said federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May.
She also said the gulf was home to several species of endangered whales. The Species at Risk Public Registry lists blue whales as living in the gulf. The Alternative Journal also listed belugas as endangered in late 2014 after their numbers in the Saint Lawrence estuary and gulf dropped below 1,000.
“It’s really critical that we have protection of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence,” said May.
But she said that needed environmental protections were stripped away by the former Conservative government when it passed C-38 in 2012, an omnibus bill that reduced protections for Canadian fisheries and fish habitats. Protection is now limited to only commercial, recreational or First Nations fisheries. Furthermore, the new law forbids only the killing of fish or the permanent altering of their habitats.
C-38 also included a new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, replacing a stricter law that was passed in 1992, according to the Environmental Law Centre (ELC).
The 2012 act removed the requirement for a federal environmental assessment for all development projects. Even in cases when a project is designated by regulation, C-38 allows the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to determine that an assessment is not required.
Secondly, the federal government may decide not to conduct its own environmental assessment of a designated project on the basis that the project is being assessed provincially, which the ELC maintains is a delegation of federal power and jurisdiction to the provinces.
This leaves provincial agencies such as the Canada-Newfoundland & Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum board free to conduct their own assessments without referring to the federal cabinet, according to May.
“The rest of Canada is not paying attention to these smaller agencies that got power to do environmental assessments under Harper,” said May, who added that C-38 had to be repealed by the present Liberal government.
May also criticized the renewal of Corridor Resources Inc.’s oil exploration licence for free in January.
“It’s the fourth year they’ve gotten it for free,” said May.
However, the CNLOPB said that environmental protection was a top priority when reviewing applications for oil drilling in areas like Old Harry.
“The Canada-Newfoundland & Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board delivers world-class regulatory oversight with safety and environmental protection as our top priorities.
“A comprehensive strategic environmental assessment update was completed for the Western Newfoundland Offshore Area in 2014, and a project-specific environmental assessment would also be required prior to authorization of a drilling program under the board’s jurisdiction,” said board spokesman Sean Kelly in an email.
He added that other obligations had to be met regarding installations, training and competency, emergency response plans, financial capacity and the industrial benefits of a proposed program.
The Herald tried contacting both Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Corridor Resources Inc.’s CEO Steve Moran for more information but was unable to reach them by late Tuesday afternoon.
Source: Chronicle Herald (Links added – not contained in original article.)