January 25, 2016
Hon. James Gordon Carr
Minister of Natural Resources
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0E4
Hon. Siobhan Coady
Minister of Natural Resources
PO Box 8700
St. John’s NL A1B 4J6
Re: Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board and the Gulf of St. Lawrence
I am writing of behalf of the Prince Edward Island chapter of Save Our Seas and Shores (SOSS PEI). SOSS is a coalition of fishing organizations, environmental and tourism groups, coastal landowners, First Nations organizations, and individuals who are concerned that the ecologically rich and diverse Gulf of St. Lawrence, home to over 4,000 marine species, is particularly sensitive to any disturbance caused by seismic surveys, exploration and drilling for oil and gas.
As you know, for the third time in the past four years, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (the NL Board) has granted a one-year extension to Corridor Resources exploration licence on the Old Harry prospect in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, located mid-way between the Magdalen Islands and the west coast of Newfoundland. Citing regulatory factors as its reason, the NL Board also waived, for the third time in four years, the $1 million deposit required for a licence extension. The “regulatory factors” the NL Board referred to is the requirement for public and Aboriginal consultations which the Board must hold as part of the environmental assessment for this project.
In August 2011, the NL Board contracted with former New Brunswick Ombudsman Bernard Richard to carry out an independent review of the Old Harry project, then in February 2012 terminated his contract, without justification, before any public consultations were held. Since then, the NL Board has dragged its heels despite numerous inquiries asking when and how these consultations will be carried out. Even now, the NL Board in its January 15, 2016 news release, says it will announce plans for consultations with Aboriginal groups and the public “at a later date”, not sometime soon. Does the Board intend to keep on delaying the consultations indefinitely and continue to give Corridor Resources free licence extensions?
The current licence extension for Corridor Resources is just one in a series of irresponsible, biased actions and decisions on the part of the NL Board. In 2012, the Board contracted with AMEC Environment and Infrastructure to update the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the Newfoundland portion of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The purpose of the SEA was to assist the Board “in determining whether further exploration rights should be offered in whole or in part for the Western NL Offshore Area.” During the time the SEA was being conducted, the NL Board issued a call for bids for licences, including licences within the Gulf. Clearly, the Board assumed that further exploration rights would be offered in the Gulf, regardless of the findings of the SEA.
The SEA update report from AMEC discussed: numerous risks to marine species and the fisheries and tourism industries, the presence of many sensitive areas and endangered species, important data gaps, and the complex and deteriorating state of the Gulf. The lack of social acceptability was apparent from the results of the public consultations held in the five Gulf provinces. Of 597 written submissions and verbal comments, 582 expressed concerns regarding continued petroleum exploration in the Gulf. The logical conclusion, based on the findings in the report, would have been that the known risks outweigh the potential benefits. Instead of the normal procedure in which the authors of a report write the conclusions, the NL Board made the bizarre decision to write the conclusions itself. (This fact is no longer obvious in the final report on the Board’s website, perhaps due to criticism the Board received for writing its own conclusions.) Predictably, the NL Board concluded that “petroleum exploration activities generally can be undertaken in the Western NL area using the mitigation measures identified in the document.”
In addition, the Board concluded that suggestions that petroleum exploration activities in the Gulf should cease were policy decisions not within its mandate, despite the fact that the purpose of the report was, as noted above, to assist the Board in deciding whether to continue offering exploration rights in the NL portion of the Gulf.
As you know, to date only two of the five Gulf provinces have set up Offshore Petroleum Boards: Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. The Nova Scotia Board ceased any activity in the Gulf after a public review panel responded to public and Aboriginal concerns in 1999. If the NL Board did not have a pro-petroleum industry bias, it would also cease all activity in the Gulf.
The roles of the NL Board are to facilitate the exploration and development of hydrocarbon resources in the NL Offshore and to protect the environment and worker safety. As noted in the Wells Report of 2010, these are conflicting roles. Clearly, the NL Board shows by its actions and decisions that protecting the Gulf ecosystem is not a priority.
We believe that the federal and NL governments have abrogated their responsibilities to oversee the decisions of this appointed body. Decisions, including the recent free extension of Corridor Resources licence, appear to have been rubber-stamped by the federal and NL Ministers of Natural Resources. Only NL benefits from oil and gas exploration and development in the Gulf, while the other four Gulf provinces share the risks. The protection of marine species and the rights of the First Nations, fishers, and other residents of the Gulf provinces to protect the Gulf ecosystem and pursue their livelihoods are being ignored.
In light of the failure of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board to act in a responsible manner, SOSS PEI is calling on the federal and Newfoundland and Labrador governments to remove the Board’s mandate pertaining to offshore oil and gas exploration and development activities in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Past-Chair, Save Our Seas and Shores-PEI Chapter (SOSS PEI)
Hon. Lawrence MacAulay, MP
Hon. Wayne Easter, MP
Sean Casey, MP
Robert Morrissey, MP
Hon. H. Wade MacLauchlan, Premier of Prince Edward Island
Hon. Robert Mitchell, Minister of Communities, Land and Environment
Hon. Paula Biggar, Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy
Hon. Alan McIsaac, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries
Greg Wilson, Manager, Environmental Land Management