Just say No to Old Harry development – OpEd by Mary Gorman

Just say no to Old Harry development

By MARY GORMAN, Freelance Montreal Gazette

July 27, 2010

I could barely read “Boundary feuds thwarting attempts to drill promising prospects in the St. Lawrence” (Gazette, July 20). Surreal, it referred to the huge stakes involved in the “29-km long field of undersea hydrocarbons” as if “Old Harry” is all that exists in our precious Gulf of St. Lawrence. No mention of the 50,000 jobs created annually by the Gulf’s multibillion-dollar fishery and tourism industries. Or the economic, ecological, and social impact this deepwater well could pose. It takes only one blown well, as we know from the Gulf of Mexico disaster. No mention of spawning, nursery, and migratory areas for lobster, herring, snow crab, mackerel, whales, and dolphins, to name a few. Fragile Atlantic salmon, cod, and wolfish, fin whale and humpback whale are in trouble. The right whale, bluefin tuna, piping plover, and leatherback turtle are endangered. Time and again, offshore oil industry giants have proven they cannot prevent, stop, or clean up spills before damage occurs for decades, if not centuries. Twenty years later, only four per cent of the oil spilled from the Exxon Valdez has been recovered. For 40 years, scientists have been calling for a moratorium on exploration and drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In 1973, a McGill University professor called for a ban, describing it as “the most productive marine region in Canada that should never be placed in harm’s way.” Because of the counterclockwise circulatory currents, he said, oil and gas contamination would be widespread along the Gulf shorelines of all five east coast provinces. Ten years ago, after exploration leases were issued along Cape Breton’s shoreline by Nova Scotia’s petroleum board, scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans referred to the Gulf’s semi-landlocked nature and winter ice cover (How do you clean up spills under ice?) stating, “This is a biologically diverse area where sensitive life stages of marine organisms are present throughout the year.” Meaning, there is no safe time to proceed with seismic blasting. As well, the Standing Committee of Fisheries and Oceans and the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council called for a moratorium. At a public review about the Cape Breton leases, even the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers testified its industry wants sensitive marine areas identified and placed out of bounds. So how can it be, a decade later, we’re back on this wretched road again? Where ordinary citizens have to step up to fill the void left by oblivious federal and provincial politicians? Tourism ministers are asleep at the switch. Only one environment minister, P.E.I.’s Richard Brown, has called for a Summit on Offshore Oil and Gas, after visiting Louisiana. The hypocrisy is that, under Canada’s Oceans Act, inshore fishermen have been under precautionary quotas for 20 years. Yet when it comes to oil and gas, the DFO and Environment Canada have signed off on their legislated mandates to protect marine habitat to petroleum boards that allow the oil industry to monitor their environmental requirements. This is eerily similar to the lack of oversight that caused the BP ecological nightmare. Who made the decision to place the protection of marine habitat in the hands of the petroleum industry? Rather than embracing renewable energy, our governments have betrayed the public interest by pandering to the offshore petroleum industry. They are risking the survival of historic coastal communities, ancestral Gaelic, Acadian, and First Nation fishing grounds and the oceans that sustain life on Earth. The fish that have been the source of livelihoods for centuries (and will continue for future generations if we stop this disrespect) don’t recognize provincial boundaries. They swim through them.

The solution to the jurisdictional bickering over who gets Old Harry is simple: No one should.

Mary Gorman is a Nova Scotia writer and activist, and a founding member of the Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition.