PEI group’s key concerns about oil and gas development in the Gulf – Commentary by Ellie Reddin

By Ellie Reddin Commentary

The Guardian

May 17, 2013

(Published title: Our key concerns about oil development in the Gulf)

Members of Save Our Seas and Shores-PEI Chapter (SOSS PEI) were taken aback by the comments made by Premier Ghiz on CBC Radio after our petition signed by 1,212 Islanders was presented to the legislative assembly by Liberal MLA Buck Watts on April 30.

His response, that “there is no need for a moratorium on drilling in P.E.I. territorial waters because P.E.I. doesn’t have any oil,” gives us reason to believe he is not aware of the important role he could take to protect our Island and the Gulf of St. Lawrence from potential disaster.

By declaring a moratorium as our petition requests, the P.E.I. government would send a clear message to our neighbouring provinces and the federal government that P.E.I. will take the necessary time to consider the true value of the Gulf of St. Lawrence; and that P.E.I. is not willing to passively accept the risks inherent in projects presently being considered, such as Corridor Resources’ Old Harry Prospect.

As we have seen in the past, most notably with the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the impact of oil spills can be devastating for the environment and for the industries – fishing, aquaculture and tourism – that depend on a healthy marine ecosystem. In the case of the Old Harry Prospect, P.E.I. has nothing to gain and everything to lose.

Premier Ghiz might be technically correct in saying that P.E.I. does not have oil in its territorial waters since legally territorial waters extend only to the low-water mark. But our petition refers to both oil and gas. And we know there has been a “significant discovery” of gas off East Point in an area considered part of P.E.I.’s “portion” of the gulf (for the purposes of federal-provincial co-management agreements on petroleum development). This site is under permanent lease to BP Canada Energy Company. BP obtained an exploration license in 1987. That licence has since expired and it does not appear that BP is likely to seek a new exploration license anytime soon. This raises the following question: Is the provincial government planning to sign a federal-provincial agreement for petroleum development in its portion of the Gulf so that at some future date the province could receive royalties if BP were to seek a new exploration licence?

In addition to requesting a moratorium in P.E.I. waters, our petition requested that the P.E.I. government work with the governments of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and the federal government to protect and manage the gulf ecosystem and to establish a permanent ban on exploration and drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

To date, only Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia have implemented petroleum development agreements with the federal government and have consequently established offshore petroleum boards; in addition, only Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia have petroleum development interests in the Atlantic Ocean. The Nova Scotia board has not been active in the gulf for more than 10 years. All five provinces share the risks, but only Newfoundland and Labrador will reap any benefits from current licences in the gulf.

Quebec has signed but not yet implemented a federal-provincial agreement. Quebec still has an ongoing moratorium in its part of the gulf and is currently conducting a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to help determine whether or not it should lift its moratorium. Recent information indicates that New Brunswick intends to sign and implement an agreement as soon as possible.

Instead of taking a far-sighted, environmentally responsible stand, it seems all five provinces are intent on rushing us headlong into folly and disaster. Since Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have offshore petroleum agreements and boards, it appears that all the provinces must have them, regardless of the consequences. We had hoped for better from our government. It is the governments, not the petroleum boards, who are ultimately responsible for the fate of the gulf.

Over the past two years, members of SOSS have met with Premier Ghiz and have sent him several letters with attached studies documenting the risks of oil and gas development in the gulf and discussing the shortcomings of the current oversight process. His statement that “we trust the systems that are in place now to ensure that the regulations and environmental procedures are being followed” indicates that he is not aware of the following facts:

• In his Fall 2012 report, Scott Vaughan, commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, Office of the Auditor General of Canada, clearly pointed out that Canada is not technically ready to face a major spill in the gulf.

• Environment Canada has determined that a major spill would have multi-provincial impacts and the David Suzuki Foundation has carried out oil spill simulations that indicate all five provinces surrounding the gulf could suffer from the impacts of a spill.

• Costs to British Petroleum associated with the Deep Water Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico are estimated at more than $40 billion. In Canada, however, liability for costs resulting from a major spill or blowout in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is limited to $30 million. Taxpayers would be responsible for all costs above $30 million.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is currently updating its Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and the P.E.I. government has a representative on the Working Group for the SEA. This leads to the following questions: What policy position has that representative been instructed to take? Are P.E.I.’s interests, including the interests of Islanders who make their livings from fishing, tourism and aquaculture, the interests of the Mi’kmaq First Nation and the interests of future generations, being adequately considered during the SEA process?

If oil development is allowed to continue in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and a major oil spill or blowout occurs, how will all those who lose their livelihoods be compensated?

What consideration is being given to the effects of seismic testing and drilling on blue whales, dolphins, leatherback turtles, seabirds, fish and other marine wildlife in the gulf?

We have respectively requested that the government of P.E.I. provide answers to these questions.

Ellie Reddin co-ordinates the P.E.I. Chapter of Save Our Seas and Shores