Lobster fisherman wary of Gulf of St. Lawrence oil drilling FRAM DINSHAW STAFF REPORTER Published May 10, 2016 – 6:25pm
Last Updated May 11, 2016 – 8:55am
As lobster season gets underway Tuesday in Cape Breton, a top local fisherman is warning that oil exploration and drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence could wreak havoc on local marine life.
“It could ruin our industry,” said Jordan MacDougall, president of the Inverness South Fisherman’s Association.
He warned that any oil spill would settle on the seabed — prime lobster habitat — and devastate their populations.
“You wouldn’t be able to sell your product and it would probably give Canada a negative name for that product from other areas,” said MacDougall.
His comments come just four months after regulators granted a one-year extension on an oil exploration licence for Corridor Resources Inc. at the Old Harry site off the western coast of Newfoundland, in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
But some warn that drilling for oil at Old Harry may detonate a ticking time bomb.
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, a 10,000-barrel oil spill at Old Harry in winter would hit the coasts of Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Les Iles de-la-Madeleine, which belong to Quebec. Simulations at other times of year also predict oil hitting the west and southern coastline of Newfoundland.
The areas that would be worst-affected by any spill would likely vary between seasons, but the Gulf of Saint Lawrence’s prevailing current runs anti-clockwise, which would push oil away from the open Atlantic and potentially endanger all five provinces bordering it.
“The Gulf of Saint Lawrence should be off-limits for drilling because it’s an extremely valuable marine area in terms of fisheries — lobster, tuna, snow crab, as well as herring,” said federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May.
She also said the gulf was home to several species of endangered whales. The Species at Risk Public Registry lists blue whales as living in the gulf. The Alternative Journal also listed belugas as endangered in late 2014 after their numbers in the Saint Lawrence estuary and gulf dropped below 1,000.
“It’s really critical that we have protection of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence,” said May.
But she said that needed environmental protections were stripped away by the former Conservative government when it passed C-38 in 2012, an omnibus bill that reduced protections for Canadian fisheries and fish habitats. Protection is now limited to only commercial, recreational or First Nations fisheries. Furthermore, the new law forbids only the killing of fish or the permanent altering of their habitats.
C-38 also included a new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, replacing a stricter law that was passed in 1992, according to the Environmental Law Centre (ELC).
The 2012 act removed the requirement for a federal environmental assessment for all development projects. Even in cases when a project is designated by regulation, C-38 allows the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to determine that an assessment is not required.
Secondly, the federal government may decide not to conduct its own environmental assessment of a designated project on the basis that the project is being assessed provincially, which the ELC maintains is a delegation of federal power and jurisdiction to the provinces.
This leaves provincial agencies such as the Canada-Newfoundland & Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum board free to conduct their own assessments without referring to the federal cabinet, according to May.
“The rest of Canada is not paying attention to these smaller agencies that got power to do environmental assessments under Harper,” said May, who added that C-38 had to be repealed by the present Liberal government.
May also criticized the renewal of Corridor Resources Inc.’s oil exploration licence for free in January.
“It’s the fourth year they’ve gotten it for free,” said May.
However, the CNLOPB said that environmental protection was a top priority when reviewing applications for oil drilling in areas like Old Harry.
“The Canada-Newfoundland & Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board delivers world-class regulatory oversight with safety and environmental protection as our top priorities.
“A comprehensive strategic environmental assessment update was completed for the Western Newfoundland Offshore Area in 2014, and a project-specific environmental assessment would also be required prior to authorization of a drilling program under the board’s jurisdiction,” said board spokesman Sean Kelly in an email.
He added that other obligations had to be met regarding installations, training and competency, emergency response plans, financial capacity and the industrial benefits of a proposed program.
The Herald tried contacting both Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Corridor Resources Inc.’s CEO Steve Moran for more information but was unable to reach them by late Tuesday afternoon.
Source: Chronicle Herald (Links added – not contained in original article.)
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.
Sincerely, Ellie Reddin
Past-Chair, Save Our Seas and Shores-PEI Chapter (SOSS PEI)
c. 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
Defenders of the Gulf of St. Lawrence who live on Prince Edward Island are telling James Carr, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, and his provincial counterpart in Newfoundland and Labrador Siobhan Coady that it is time to pull the plug on the C-NLOPB.
This action follows the publication of Ellie Reddin’s Jan 27th article in the Journal Pioneer and PEI’s The Guardian, which pointed out a series of irresponsible, biased decisions made by the C-NLOPB over the past several years, including their recent decision to provide Corridor Resources a third extension on their exploration license for the Old Harry prospect in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In her followup letter to the Ministers, Reddin wrote: “Citing regulatory factors as its reason, the [C-NLOPB] also waived, for the third time in four years, the $1 million deposit required for a licence extension. The “regulatory factors” the 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.”
“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 it’s members to write to the Ministers to demand that 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.
See SOSS PEI full letter to federal Minister James Carr, and NL Minister of Natural Resources Siobhan Coady here.
The Gulf needs your support. Add your voice to SOSS PEI’s by sending a short email message to the Ministers – here’s is a sample message you could copy and paste, or personalize as you wish:
I am writing to express my support for the letter you recently received from SOSS PEI regarding the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. As outlined in the letter, the C-NLOPB has shown by its actions and decisions over the past several years that it is failing to carry out its responsibility to protect the Gulf environment. As Ministers responsible for the C-NLOPB, please act to remove the Board’s mandate pertaining to oil and gas exploration and development activities in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
(Your home community and province)
Email addresses for the two Ministers are:
Minister.Ministre@nrcan-rncan.gc.ca and firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
The Canadian Press
Jan 15, 2016 2:05 pm EST
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Environmental activists who want a drilling moratorium in the Gulf of St. Lawrence weren’t impressed Friday as regulators extended an oil exploration licence for the Old Harry site by another year.
Corridor Resources Inc. (TSX-CDH) of Halifax had until Friday to offer a $1 million deposit to extend the licence until next January.
The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board announced the province and Ottawa agreed to waive the fee. Federal and provincial Natural Resources ministers ratified the move “in consideration of regulatory factors that have resulted in … delays in drilling a validation well in the final year of (Corridor’s) nine-year licence term,” the board said in a news release.
Spokesman Sean Kelly said no one was available for further comment.
Corridor Resources President and CEO Steve Moran referred all questions to the offshore petroleum board.
“It’s awful,” said Sylvain Archambault of the St. Lawrence Coalition, one of several environmental and indigenous groups across Canada that have called for a drilling moratorium in the Gulf.
“This is the third time they’ve obtained such a free pass.”
In its news release, the offshore board said it will soon announce plans for consultations with aboriginal groups and the public on related environmental assessments. Such regulatory requirements must be complete before any drilling goes ahead, Kelly confirmed in an email.
The federal government has estimated the Gulf and surrounding areas potentially hold 39 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 1.5 billion barrels of oil.
Indigenous groups and environmental activists have urged a moratorium in the Gulf pending a scientific review of risks. They also want to see collective management strategies involving the five adjacent provinces — Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Drilling would be close to the shore of any province,” Archambault said Friday in an interview. The Old Harry site is about 80 kilometres west of Newfoundland. One theory is that it was named for a community on the nearby Magdalen Islands.
“Scientific spill scenarios clearly show that the west coast of Newfoundland would be impacted as well as Cape Breton and the Magdalen Islands,” Archambault said.
“In the Gulf there are fisheries worth over $1.5 billion. There’s tourism, communities living all around the Gulf. We really don’t want the same scenario that happened in the Gulf of Mexico to repeat itself here.”
The Deepwater Horizon explosion April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 rig workers. An estimated 3.19 million barrels of oil spewed into the water before engineers could cap the blown-out well 87 days later.
“And the Old Harry drilling site would be smack in the middle of the Laurentian Channel which is the highway used by all the migrating species — whales, salmon, cod,” Archambault said. “Anything happening there would be disastrous.”
Source: 680 News
Tuesday, November 24, 2015 1:06PM EST
Four-time Academy Award nominee Ethan Hawke says he considers Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq people to be his “neighbours,” and that they’ve inspired him to support a moratorium on drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
“You know, I have a place up in Nova Scotia,” Hawke said CTV’s Canada AM on Tuesday. “There is a Mi’kmaq (reserve) right near my house.”
Hawke, who is currently on tour promoting his new book “Rules for a Knight,” said the nearby First Nations group reached out to ask him to support their cause.
“They contacted me and made me aware of what was happening in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and what they’re doing to protect it,” he said.
Along with other environmental groups, the Mi’kmaq are calling for a 12-year moratorium on drilling in the area.
They say the drilling could harm the fragile ecosystem and their traditional lands, and want a thorough environmental assessment before any operations continue.
Hawke joined the Mi’kmaq for a traditional water ceremony last month to honour the community’s relationship with their environment.
“You know, they’re an impressive group of people,” Hawke said. “I really like how they’re using their indigenous rights to help us all.”
Hawke owns a property in St. George’s Bay, N.S., often spends time there during the summer.
In October, he told The Canadian Press that the area is “an absolutely magical place.”
Hawke told Canada AM that he feels it’s important to protect the gulf not only for himself and the Mi’kmaq currently living there, but for future generations.
“I really wanted my kids to see me (advocating with the Mi’kmaq) because that piece of property, with any luck, will be theirs’,” he said. “And the legacy of taking care of that land and that water will fall to them.”
Beyond environmental stewardship, Hawke also recently offered his children life lessons in the form of a new book.
In “Rules for a Knight,” the author and actor lists a series of traits all good knights – or good people – should possess.
Hawke says he drew upon his own life experience and family lessons to come up with the complete list of 20 rules, which span from lessons on humility to ruminations on solitude, friendship, and death.
Each chapter opens with an illustration of a bird, drawn by his wife, Ryan Shawhughes.
Hawke said the idea for the book originally sprang from a conversation with his Shawhughes about the most important rules in their home. The concept evolved into “Rules for a princess,” which was dedicated to his eldest daughter. Then, Hawke adjusted the title to fit his son’s interests.
“It slowly just grew in the telling until finally, this year, my oldest is graduating and we just decided to publish it,” he said.
Hawke said his wife and children influenced the book so much that, in some ways, he doesn’t feel right taking all the credit.
“I feel much more like the editor than an author,” he said.
Source: CTV Canada AM
[Note: Independent media video idea coverage of the October 26th press conference in Paq’tnkek is also available. Watch excerpts from all speakers here, and Save Our Seas and Shores spokesperson’s entire commentary here. Credit: Ruby Tree Films]
Award-winning journalist Maureen Googoo, owner/editor of Kukukwes.com covered this story. The excerpts and photographs below come from the complete article on Kukukwes.com, an independent Aboriginal news organization.
From left, Troy Jerome, Ethan Hawke, Listuguj Chief Scott Martin and Paqtnkek Chief P.J. Prosper take part in water ceremony Oct. 26 (Photo: Stephen Brake)
“Mi’kmaq leaders from Listuguj, Gespeg and Gespegagiag in Quebec – which form the Mi’gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat – worked with officials with Paqtnkek and the Save Our Seas and Shores coalition to ask the Hollywood actor help them raise awareness about the negative effects of offshore drilling in the Gulf area.”
“Troy Jerome, executive director of the Mi’gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat in Quebec, said Canada should not allow offshore drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence without first consulting with and speaking to the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Innu peoples.”
L to R Mary Gorman (Save Our Seas and Shores); Listuguj Chief Scott Martin; Paqtnkek Chief P.J. Prosper; actor Ethan Hawke and Troy Jerome executive director of the Mi’gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat. (Photo: Stephen Brake)
“And the way to speak to Mi’kmaq is to bring one comprehensive study that shows the body of water, the Gulf as one ecosystem and what could happen if there’s drilling,” Jerome said at the news conference.”
Ethan Hawke took part in a water ceremony in Paqtnkek along the shores of Pomquet Harbour Oct. 26 (Photo: Stephen Brake)
The Gulf of St. Lawrence as seen from space. “Highly significant ecological areas such the Gulf should be top on our list to declare off-limits, whether oil is at $40 or $400 a barrel,” writes Gretchen Fitzgerald of the Sierra Club. (NASA)
GRETCHEN FITZGERALD Chronicle Herald
November 16, 2015
Your Nov. 7 Weekend Focus: “Oil, Water and Old Harry” got it wrong when it implied that oil prices are the most important obstacle to oil and gas development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The implication of this slant is that if oil prices rise, we will see development go ahead. The article also got it wrong when it implied that the threat of one oil well was insignificant to the Gulf’s ecology and economy. Finally, the article also ignored the fact that a single well, as damaging as it could be, is merely the toehold for future development, and that in the context of global climate change, it is imperative we shift away from these dangerous fossil fuel projects.
Groups have been fighting oil and gas development in the Gulf long before oil prices dipped. As the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore petroleum board acknowledged in 2010, they had never received such an intense public response to a project before they announced they were considering exploration at Old Harry in the middle of the Gulf.
This is because the Gulf is a unique place that is particularly vulnerable to oil development — and many people, from fishermen to scientists to national environmental groups such as Sierra Club feel strongly about this. This opposition will outlast the vagaries of oil price fluctuations.
Gretchen Fitzgerald, Director, Atlantic Canada chapter, Sierra Club Canada (Photo: Flickr)
Granted, because there has been no arm’s-length, ecosystem-wide assessment for oil and gas development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it is difficult to figure out what the whole story is.
Although a single ecosystem, parts of Gulf waters are considered jurisdiction of five eastern provinces and the federal government. The Gulf is also considered traditional territory for indigenous communities that have fished and lived on its shores for millennia. Our previous federal government’s lack of ability or willingness to play a co-ordinating role to oversee complex, inter-jurisdictional issues like the Gulf has added to the confusion.
As I write, consultations are underway in Quebec to assess the impacts of developing provincial petroleum resources, and mirror legislation has been passed provincially and introduced federally to create a management scheme similar to our offshore Accord Act — potentially opening up the Quebec portion of the Gulf to development.
Similarly, consultations are underway in Newfoundland to assess fracking, and the area that has experienced the most intense interest from fracking companies is located in the Gulf, off the West Coast of Newfoundland.
As we witnessed when the BP spill spewed billions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, quickly followed by a toxic brew of dispersant chemicals designed to hide the oil under the surface (chemicals that oil companies can now be permitted to use in Canada), an exploratory well can have devastating impacts.
Only one-quarter of the three billion barrels of crude spilled in the BP disaster is accounted for, and tar balls still wash up on beaches. Mangroves that are nurseries for sea life — similar to the salt marshes in our Gulf of St. Lawrence —have been damaged or destroyed. Dolphins have been poisoned by the oil, and marine mammal strandings have spiked since the spill.
Oil and chemical traces are found in fish and shellfish in the Gulf of Mexico, with unknown consequences for their development and the food chain. Imagine the impact of a similar spill on the marine mammals, sea turtles and fish that now live in our Gulf — which is six times smaller in size than the Gulf of Mexico.
As the BP spill illustrated, one exploratory well is certainly enough to damage our Gulf and the communities it supports. But one well would probably lead to others, increasing the risk with each additional project.
In the weeks leading up to UN negotiations on climate change in Paris, we need to acknowledge that some oil will need to be left in the ground to secure our future. Highly significant ecological areas such the Gulf should be top on our list to declare off-limits, whether oil is at $40 or $400 a barrel.
Gretchen Fitzgerald is director, Atlantic Canada chapter, Sierra Club Canada Foundation.
Source: Chronicle Herald
When the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout spewed 5-million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, one of the main tools used against the oil was a chemical dispersant called Corexit. 7-million litres of this detergent-like chemical was used to break up oil slicks, in part to disperse the oil into the water and prevent contamination of coastlines, birds, and marine mammals.
It was also thought that dissolving the slicks like this would increase the rate at which natural bacteria would bio-degrade the oil. But work by Dr. Samantha Joye, a microbiologist in the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia, and her colleagues, has shown that Corexit seems to inhibit, rather than facilitate, the ability of microbes to break down oil, leaving the toxic oil in the water for longer.
This throws into question a big part of the case for using chemical dispersant on oil spills.
Samantha Joye, a professor of marine sciences in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, studies the oil plumes generated by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout. (Credit: Todd Dickey/University of Georgia)
“The dispersants did a great job in that they got the oil off the surface,” Joye said. “What you see is the dispersants didn’t ramp up biodegradation.”
In fact, she found the oil with no dispersant “degraded a heckuva lot faster than the oil with dispersants,” Joye said.
Joye’s team chronicled nearly 50,000 species of bacteria in the Gulf and what they did to the water with oil, and water with oil and dispersant.
One of the main groups of oil munchers are fat little sausage-shaped bacteria called marinobacters, Joye said. They eat oil all the time and comprise about 3 percent of the bacteria in normal water. But when there’s oil, they eat and multiply like crazy until they are as much as 42 percent of the bacteria, Joye said.
But when the dispersant was applied, they didn’t grow. They stayed around 3 percent, Joye said.
Instead, a different family of bugs called colwellia multiplied more, and they don’t do nearly as good a job at munching the oil, Joye said. She theorized that for some reason the dispersant and marinobacters just don’t work together.
So if the oil wasn’t degraded by the bacteria, the question remains: Where did it go? Joye guesses it might still be on the floor of the gulf.
Should authorities avoid dispersants in the future? “That’s an extraordinarily complicated question,” says Joye. Corexit has its problems, but it does seem to keep oil away from coasts. “Nobody wants to see oiled birds, turtles, and dolphins, but the bottom line is that if you disperse that oil, it’s still in the water. You feel better, but is it improving the situation? My gut instinct is that I would put my faith in the microbial communities to do their job.”
Listen to CBC podcast interview with Dr. Samantha Joye
WEEKEND FOCUS AARON BESWICK Truro Bureau Chronicle Herald November 6, 2015
Actor Ethan Hawke, right, stands with Mi’kmaq elder Robert Pictou as he attends their community’s water ceremony on the shores of Pomquet Harbour last month to support the aboriginal call for a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. (ANDREW VAUGHAN / CP)
Low gas prices may be bigger obstacle than ecological concerns
Ethan Hawke might want to keep his powder dry.
When the Hollywood star held a news conference two weeks ago in Antigonish County with local First Nations and a group opposed to oil exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the media’s spotlight shone hard.
But after Hawke and all the reporters drove away in their gas-powered vehicles, two important questions remained.
If our society relies on hydrocarbons that we drill for on the Scotian Shelf and import from around the world, then why can’t we drill in the Gulf of St. Lawrence?
And how realistic is it that commercially viable oil will be found in the gulf anyway?
“The incredibly and blatantly obvious statement to make is that with oil prices down in numbers that start with a four (around US$40 dollars a barrel), the economic viability of many projects is not good,” said Gregory Chornoboy, a former oil industry analyst in Calgary who has reported on Corridor Resources.
“That would be an expensive well to drill.”
All the hype is around the plan of a Halifax junior exploration company to drill one exploratory well on a geological feature called Old Harry, about 80 kilometres west of Newfoundland’s most southern point.
“Old Harry has all the attributes required to hold a large resource,” said Grant Wach, a Dalhousie University geology professor who specializes in petroleum geoscience.
“But we won’t know until we drill.”
Basically, Old Harry is a big bubble of sandstone underneath the sea floor that is covered by shale rock.
Sandstone is important because it is filled with all kinds of little holes that can hold oil or gas. The shale is important because it works like a bottle cap, preventing the hydrocarbons from being released into the water.
So Corridor’s seismic data has indicated Old Harry is a good gas can. What’s not known is whether it’s empty.
A 2009 assessment by the Geological Survey of Canada estimated 39 trillion cubic feet of in-place natural gas and 1.5 billion barrels of oil in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, which includes Old Harry.
Those are big numbers that grabbed a lot of attention from the political and industrial leaders of the five cash-strapped provinces bordering the Gulf of St. Lawrence and from those opposed to oil exploration due to environmental concerns.
But don’t keep your eyes peeled on the horizon for tugs towing drilling rigs.
There have been 10 exploratory wells drilled in the gulf since 1944, none of which resulted in oil getting pumped out of the ground. Just one exploration well costs tens of millions of dollars to drill.
According to Corridor Resource’s annual reports, it has been unsuccessfully seeking a partner with deep pockets to fund its Old Harry exploration since 1997. In 2012, it went farther and hired consulting firm Macquarie Tristone to help it find a partner, but still no luck.
The price of oil, meanwhile, is half what it was in 2012.
“That’s always been a mystery to me,” Wach said when asked why a partner hasn’t been found.
“The geology is good and the technical staff at Corridor is superb. If this were in Alberta, it would be a slam dunk.”
But the communities surrounding the Gulf of St. Lawrence are a long way from Alberta.
“In the absence of objective scientific evidence stating that oil and gas activities in the Gulf of St. Lawrence poses no real risks to our eco-system and to our renewable resources, all hydrocarbon exploration activities, including seismic testing, should be suspended,” reads a letter signed by 20 fishermen’s associations, fish plant owners and First Nations leaders recently sent to the federal ministers of environment, fisheries and oceans and natural resources.
Then there’s David Suzuki, the Sierra Club and a host of grassroots environmental groups adamantly opposed to more drilling in the gulf.
The image of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning and sinking after a blowout in 2010 still holds power over a lot of minds on the East Coast.
Representatives of Shell Canada and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board were grilled by the legislature’s resource committee on response plans in the event of a blowout during drilling of two exploration wells about 250 kilometres southwest of Shelburne over the next 10 months.
So if we allow drilling on the Atlantic coast, why would we not allow it in the gulf? Both are important fishing grounds that could be badly hurt by an oil spill.
And the boats that take fishermen, scientists and tourists out to both waterways are powered by hydrocarbons that came out of the ground somewhere.
“We recognize as a society that not every activity can take place everywhere,” said Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University.
“We don’t do nuclear testing everywhere. We don’t build polluting industries in residential areas.”
He said he doesn’t think there should be drilling on the Scotian Shelf or in the gulf. But the gulf, said Worm, would be particularly sensitive to a spill due to a combination of geography and biology.
It exchanges water with the Atlantic Ocean through the Cabot Strait and the Strait of Belle Isle. This means that water circulates around the gulf before draining out.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence is also significantly colder than the Gulf of Mexico and lacks the bacteria that work to naturally break down oil. So oil spilled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and carried into river estuaries would be there for a long time, said Worm.
Those salt marsh estuaries, protected by the Atlantic’s big waves, are nurseries for all manner of sea creatures. The spartina salt grasses of those estuaries, meanwhile, produce more biological matter per hectare than the rainforest and flush it out to fuel the ocean food web.
Wach said the industry has learned a lot since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and people should take a holistic view. Oil tankers and large ships carrying many chemicals pass through the gulf daily on their way to fuel the industries of Central Canada; those, he said, are a greater risk than a single exploratory well.
The stakes are high. The decision on whether Corridor gets permission to drill will fall to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, responsible for the area of the gulf in which most of Old Harry is located.
Corridor is midway through the board’s environmental assessment process, which has drawn lots of public comment from those opposed to the project.
“Geologists are usually optimists, so I do think it will happen,” said Wach.
But geologists don’t hold the purse strings. Those who do at big companies like British Petroleum and Shell haven’t come forward yet to team up with Corridor.
While no-one from the company was available to comment this week on Old Harry, president Steve Moran provided a written statement.
“Corridor is confident it can proceed safely and responsibly with its exploration programs at Old Harry, under Canada’s rigorous environmental regulation,” Moran wrote.
“This exploration program is currently before the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. Corridor will continue to address any issues raised as part of this regulatory process.”
Source: Chronicle Herald