Mary Gorman of the Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition (SOSS), speaks passionately for protecting the Gulf of St. Lawrence at Pa’qtnkek Water Ceremony with Ethan Hawke, October 26, 2015.
- Credit: Andrea Schaffer via Flickr
After four years of research by the St. Lawrence Coalition, Gulf 101 – Oil in the Gulf of St. Lawrence: Facts, Myths, and Future Outlook was released last week (June 10th 2014) in tandem with World Oceans Week. The report explores the facts and myths surrounding oil exploration and exploitation in the Gulf as well as possible future scenarios that may result from these activities.
The 80-page report highlights our lack of understanding towards the ecosystems within the Gulf as well as the oceans currents and other environmental components found there. The environment of the Gulf is subject to conditions that are not seen in other areas of oil development such as winter ice that would make cleaning up an oil spill almost impossible, threatening the destruction of the slowly recovering cod stocks as well as the currently thriving fisheries and tourism industries that so many communities depend on.
The report provides true insight for why Save Our Seas and Shores and the St. Lawrence Coalition asks you to lend your support to a moratorium on oil and gas in the Gulf. Go here to take action!
The Gulf 101 Report generated massive media attention in all five Gulf provinces. Here is a selection:
Prince Edward Island:
CBC News Montreal (online): http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/moratorium-on-gulf-of-st-lawrence-oil-exploration-sought-1.2669637 (June 9)
Go hear to read the Press Release on the report from the David Suzuki Foundation:
Man-made noise in the oceans may have significant damaging effects on shellfish populations, according to a new international study.
This University of St. Andrews in Scotland press release below describes the study:
A team of researchers from the Scottish Oceans Institute at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, the University of La Laguna, Canary Islands and the University of Auckland, New Zealand, found that marine invertebrates, such as shellfish, suffered significant body malformations after being exposed to noise.
The team conducted a sound playback experiment on New Zealand scallop larvae, comparing their development to a control group kept in quiet conditions. The results show that the exposed scallops suffered significant development delays, with 46% of them developing body abnormalities, while no malformations were found in the controlled larvae.
The strong impacts observed in the experiment suggest that abnormalities and growth delays could also occur at lower noise levels in the wild, suggesting routine underwater sounds from oil exploration and construction could affect the survival of wild scallops.
Team leader, Dr Aguilar de Soto, from the University of St Andrews and the University of La Laguna said:
Nobody knew that noise exposure could affect the growth of animals so dramatically so it was a real surprise to discover malformations in these microscopic larvae. What is actually going wrong inside the cells is still a mystery that we need to investigate. Shellfish larvae go through radical body changes as they grow and noise seems to disrupt this natural process.
Fishermen worldwide complain about reductions in captures follow seismic surveys used for oil explorations. Our results suggest that noise could be one factor explaining delayed effects on stocks?
MASTS (Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland) senior research fellow Dr Mark Johnson of St Andrews said:
Between shipping, construction and oil explorations, we are making more and more noise in the oceans. There is already concern about the possible effects of this on whales and dolphins. Our results show that even small animals could be affected by noise. It is important to find out what noise levels are safe for shellfish to help reduce our impact on these key links in the food chain?
The full report is published in the Nature Publishing Group journal, Scientific Reports.
This 32 page report presents the Gulf of St. Lawrence as a unique marine ecosystem that features complex oceanographic processes and also maintains a high biological diversity of marine life. The information provided covers physical systems such as the properties of water, physical oceanography and geological components. The biological aspects include descriptions of macrophytic, planktonic and benthic communities, reptiles, fish, marine birds and mammals. There is also a discussion on the human components such as settlement, industrial activity and governance. By providing relevant information in this format the report highlights the challenge of managing multiple human activities within the context of a dynamic, diverse and unique marine ecosystem. It was produced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in 2005.
Are blasting airguns jeopardizing Atlantic Ocean’s ecosystem?
by Robert Devet
Halifax Media Co-op
November 21, 2013
K’JIPUKTUK, HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s offshore oil and gas production is on the upswing. Natural gas is flowing from the Deep Panuke natural gas field on the Scotian Shelf.
And now there are two new kids on the block. This time it’s oil they are after.
Shell Canada spent the summer mapping the geology of a large area in the Shelburne Basin about 300 kilometers south east of Halifax. Next summer BP Exploration (Canada) will follow suit.
Shell for one is happy with the results of its discovery effort. “The initial indication is that the data we’re seeing looks really good,” Shell spokesperson Larry Lalonde told the Chronicle Herald in early September of this year. “We’re quite excited about what we are seeing.”
But local environmental activists are worried. And the concern is not just about spills like the one we saw in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Concerns emerge even in this early discovery stage when geologists are determining how much oil there really is, and where exactly that oil can be found.
Problem is, that discovery process is a very noisy affair.
Seismic testing involves the use of airguns fired from moving ships. The airguns generate loudblasts below the ocean’s surface approximately every 20 seconds. The nature of the resulting seismic waves allow geologists to map the geological strata below the ocean floor.
Many environmentalists believe that the noise generated by airguns, almost as loud as dynamite explosions, has a profoundly negative effect on fish, sea turtles and whales in the seismic testing area.
Lindy Weilgart, a Dalhousie University research associate in Biology, has studied the effects of seismic testing on marine wildlife since she was a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University.
“When the airgun is fired you actually see a bubble coming to the surface, air is released under incredibly high pressure, and with a very sharp onset,” says Weilgart. “One shot, and if you don’t have ear protectors on you can go deaf.”
Weilgart is not just worried that sea creatures find themselves too close to the airguns and suffer permanent hearing damage. There are other reasons why seismic testing is particularly hard on ocean dwellers, says Weilgart.
Although under water sound drops off faster, it carries much further than it does on land. The sound of the airguns can be heard as far as 4,000 kilometers away. Combine that with how crucial sound is for fish and sea mammals, and you have a big problem.
“Often it is the quiet signals that are important,” says Weilgart. “For instance, fin whales have to listen for the sounds of potential mates, to meet up. For them it could mean the difference between a mating opportunity or not.”
And not just whales. Weilgart mentions studies that show that fish make very poor decisions about handling their prey when in a noisy environment. Even squid are affected.
The impact of seismic testing on ocean wildlife is complex. Weilgart gives example after example to drive home this point.
“We have to look at it in the way the animal experiences it, we have to be animal-centric,” says Weilgart. And behaviour isn’t always a good indicator of what is really going on.
“Sometimes the most vulnerable and most desperate of the individuals will stay, not because they aren’t bothered by the seismic testing, but because they can’t afford to leave, they don’t have the luxury,” says Weilgart.
Sea creatures are not just facing this one seismic survey, they are dealing with other noise sources as well, says Weilgart. Ships, the bow thrusters of oil platforms, the seismic ships themselves make noise.
Then there is stress caused by overfishing and loss of prey, climate change and warming of the oceans, acidification, the list goes on.
Environmental approval for this summer’s seismic testing by Shell was granted by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, an independent joint federal-provincial agency that regulates all offshore oil and gas activities.
It’s written approval of this summer’s seismic testing effort states that it is not likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects, especially given the precautionary measures to which Shell has committed.
Those precautionary measures consist of independent monitors who travel on board of the ships and watch for whales and turtles, and sensors that pick up sounds made by whales below the ocean surface. Work stops immediately when there is any sign that such ocean wildlife is present.
Mark Butler, Policy Director at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, does not think that is good enough.
What monitors are able to observe is just the tip of the iceberg, Butler says. Thick fog and big waves can make it very difficult to see a tail flick somewhere in that vast expanse of ocean.
Butler is also not happy that the exploration by Shell was taking place during the summer. He believes that it is better to stop seismic testing during sensitive periods.
“People don’t realize how much life comes into our waters in the spring and summer to feed, it’s like a highway out there,” says Butler.
This is why Butler asked that Shell postpone the seismic testing until later in the year, but Shell refused, arguing that the project was already approved and that bad weather in winter was too much of a risk to the crew.
“If you are striving, as some would perhaps suggest, for no environmental impact than there would be no man-made activities on land or on sea,” says Stuart Pinks, CEO of the Offshore Petroleum Board.
“But the purpose of the environmental assessment is to make sure that there is no significant adverse impact and to minimize any impact that has been identified to the lowest extent possible,” Pinks says.
Minimizing impact may be a matter of degree, but for Weilgart we’re not cautious enough.
“You can’t keep asking the animal to adapt, there is not enough luxury and play in the system,” says Weilgart. “The oceans are not doing well, and now you are throwing this at them.”
“At the very minimum you have to be precautionary.”
Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert
Seismic airgun activity for oil and gas exploration has been approved by the Obama Administration. At present, the Department of Interior is deciding whether to allow seismic surveys for offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean from New Jersey to Florida. The proposed surveys would employ loud and continuous sound blasts that would cause devastating impacts to whales, dolphins, sea turtles, fishes and other marine life, as well as the ecosystem.
Blasts from seismic airguns have been shown to interfere with the mating, feeding, communication, and migration activities of numerous species, including the critically endangered Northern Atlantic right whale which numbers around 300 whales.
March 8, 2013
Shell Canada’s proposed seismic survey could have an impact on the migration patterns of bluefin tuna off the coast of Nova Scotia, the federal Fisheries Department says.
A department official has told the industry regulator that the global energy giant should have a more detailed plan to avoid interfering with migrating tuna, or the midshore fishery, on the Scotian Shelf.
“New information on bluefin tuna migrations indicate that they travel along the shelf edge during the same time as the proposed seismic activity,” Donald Humphrey said Wednesday in an email to the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board.
Humphrey, with the habitat management division, also said department staff have heard from several area fisherman who have asked Shell for more information about the seismic program but have not had a response.
“I would like to emphasize the importance of engaging these stakeholders,” the filing says.
Calgary-based Shell, a subsidiary of the Dutch oil and gas company, plans to start a 3-D seismic survey program of six deepwater blocks. The parcels are located about 350 kilometres south of Halifax.
Shell wants to explore almost 12,200 square kilometres of an area known as the Shelburne Basin.
The wide-azimuth surveys, part of a $1-billion exploration program planned over six years, will help the company examine the basin for potential drilling sites.
The survey program will run from April to September, with more work scheduled during the same time frame in 2014.
The 3-D surveys involve several vessels towing air-gun source arrays, with the two outer vessels also towing streamers.
While DFO has raised concerns about bluefin tuna, an Eastern Shore fisherman said Friday he’s concerned about the possible impact the survey could have on the snow crab fishery.
Peter Connors said scientific studies about the potential impact of seismic work on fish species have been inconclusive.
“The scientists aren’t prepared to say that it does cause any harm. It may or may not. We really don’t know,” the Sober Island fisherman said.
Connors, who is president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, also fishes lobster and halibut, which is another species found in the deepwater area that Shell wants to be explore.
Because the survey work would take several months, fishermen are also talking to Shell about minimizing the seismic program’s impact on various fisheries, he said.
A spokesman for aboriginal fishermen in Truro said the seismic work would also be done in an area that has swordfishing.
“They are aware of the longliners and are addressing that issue,” Roger Hunka, director of the Maritime Aboriginal Aquatic Resources Secretariat, said of the dialogue swordfisherman are having with Shell.
A Shell spokesman said the company has consulted with fisheries representatives and will continue to do so.
“We have made efforts to provide project information regularly and respond to any questions or concerns,” Stephen Doolan said in an email.
The board said earlier this week that it takes all stakeholder comments into account in deciding on the survey plan.
From the US based group Oceana.org
According to government estimates, 138,500 whales and dolphins will soon be injured and possibly killed along the East Coast if exploration companies are allowed to use dangerous blasts of noise to search for offshore oil and gas.
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is considering allowing geophysical companies, working on behalf of oil and gas companies, to use seismic airguns to search for offshore oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean, from Delaware to Florida. These airguns use compressed air to generate intense pulses of sound, which are 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine.
These loud blasts are used on a recurring basis, going off every ten seconds, for 24 hours a day, often for weeks on end. They are so loud that they penetrate through the ocean, and miles into the seafloor, then bounce back, bringing information to the surface about the location of buried oil and gas deposits.
Airgun blasts harm whales, dolphins, sea turtles and fish. The types of impacts marine mammals may endure include temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, beach strandings and even death. Seismic airguns could devastate marine life, and harm fisheries and coastal economies along the Atlantic coast. Seismic testing in the Atlantic would also be the first major step toward offshore drilling, which further harms the marine environment through leaks, oil spills, habitat destruction and greenhouse gas emissions.
This seismic testing, and all of the consequences that may ensue, are unnecessary because there cannot be any drilling in the Atlantic for at least the next five years, and oil and gas companies already own undeveloped leases on millions of acres of federal lands and water.
Follow the conversation on Twitter at #seismic
Watch this short video – What is Seismic Airgun Testing?
Download a copy of “A Deaf Whale is a Dead Whale: Seismic Airgun Testing for Oil and Gas Threatens Marine Life and Coastal Economies” (PDF)
Click here to learn more about seismic testing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence
Oceana, a US based organization, explains seismic testing in this short, but potent video.