For immediate release – May 8, 2014
Charlottetown – The report of the Canada-Newfoundland & Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board this week recommending that oil and gas exploration and development can “generally proceed” in the Gulf of St. Lawrence comes as a disappointment to local environmentalists. The update on the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) acknowledged but did not respond to concerns expressed by scientists and citizens from across the region who took the time to participate in the SEA update. They pointed to the huge risks associated with exploration and drilling, to the marine ecosystem of the Gulf, and to communities that depend on fisheries and tourism.
The report indicates that some places within the Gulf may require special consideration, but it fails to address the key feature of the Gulf, which are its semi-closed nature, its ice-cover for part of the year, and the way in which currents flow. “In the event of a spill or leakage, oil would disperse widely, with disastrous effect,” says Ian Forgeron, a member of the PEI chapter of Save Our Seas and Shores.
The Gulf supports a rich ecosystem which includes several species of whale, from beluga to blue and sperm whales; the largest breeding colonies of puffins in North America, as well as lobster, snow crab, Bluefin tuna and what is left of the northern cod. People and communities around the Gulf have depended on this rich ecosystem for their existence: fishing and hunting, aquaculture, tourism. The economic value of commercial fisheries has been estimated at $1.5 billion annually. Eel and salmon in the estuaries are a source of income for First Nations communities throughout the region.
Jordan MacPhee, a UPEI student and member of SOSS PEI points out that the Gulf is already under pressure from overfishing and climate change. He says that against this background, oil and gas extraction must be seen as a very real threat. And, he says, what happened in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico has shown us what kind of devastation can happen. “Even when the highest level of technology is applied, there is room for human error. The environmental impacts of the BP blow-out are still being felt. Livelihoods were destroyed, and people continue to report critical health effects, in part from the chemicals used to disperse the oil.”
Locally, several communities have passed resolutions calling on the Government of PEI to work towards a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf. Regionally, a coalition of Innu, Maliseet and Mi’kmaq people has formed to protest oil and gas development in the Gulf, and call for a moratorium. Similarly, in Quebec all of the municipalities in Gaspésie and les Iles de la Madeleine have joined together and have demanded a moratorium.
“We need a moratorium now”, says Forgeron. “There is too much at risk. We need to see the Gulf for what it is – one of the world’s most beautiful and rich ecosystems – and preserve it. Particularly as the inherent risks of exploration and drilling in the Gulf are at the expense of the existing fishery, tourism, and other sectors so important to the Prince Edward Island economy.”