NL NDP Says Put Oil and Gas in the Gulf On Hold, Province in “precarious situation”

Breakthrough! This May 6th article (below) in The Telegram indicates Newfoundland’s NDP Party wants oil and gas activity in the Gulf put on hold because jurisdictional issues are unresolved. We hope more politicians will take leadership and protect our Gulf!

Regional environmental assessment opens Western N.L. offshore

The Telegram – Published on May 06, 2014

NDP advises caution in considering Old Harry and other boundary work

The area offshore Western Newfoundland is poised to open for new oil and gas industry work, including potential new exploration licences for interested players, as the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) has published its updated Western Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)

The release of the document means the restart of a round of licensing for oil exploration offshore Western Newfoundland, previously placed on hold, pending the completion of the regional environmental review.

The call for bids on those exploration licences will now close in 120 days.

Corridor Resources, a company looking to drill an exploration well on a licence area it already held right to in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, including a prospect known as Old Harry, had placed their plans on hold, at least until the CNLOPB completed its review work.

“We welcome the release of the Strategic Environmental Assessment report … We also have to understand and review the consultation process for Old Harry before commenting further. We do plan to proceed with our exploratory program at Old Harry, which is one of the most promising undrilled offshore petroleum structures in Atlantic Canada,” said a spokesman for the company, in a statement provided in response to questions on Old Harry plans.

The release of the detailed, regional environmental documentation on Monday afternoon completes a review process started in 2011.

The SEA was first completed in 2005 but due for an update. It is, generally speaking, a broad look by the CNLOPB at potential environmental implications of offshore oil exploration and development in a region.

It ultimately feeds decisions by the offshore regulator on applications for individual projects, but does not replace individual environmental assessments for proposed offshore work, such as seismic surveys or drilling.

The new Western region SEA provides summary of existing environmental baseline studies, identifies sensitive environmental areas, maps human activities offshore and notes species of concern. It highlights: areas important for marine mammals; beaches considered critical for breeding of the Piping Plover; migratory routes and rivers for salmon; areas of coral and eelgrass; lobster, herring, capelin, and cod nursery and spawning areas.

It notes seven coastal parks and protected areas under the provincial and federal government in the Western region and an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area for groundfish, as identified under the Oceans Act.

It also identifies eight, known unexploded ordinance sites.

Fishing areas are identified, but the report also maps the distribution of commercial fishing operations and intensity of work in the region from 2005 to 2011.

The CNLOPB states clearly an oil spill is always possible.

That said, the ultimate finding of the review work — including open house consultations conducted throughout Atlantic Canada and Quebec in September and October 2012, and consultation with various provincial and federal authorities — was that oil and gas exploration offshore Western Newfoundland is considered generally permissable, if standard measures are enforced for keeping negative environmental impacts to a minimum.

In some cases, some areas, as identified in the roughly 750-page report, special mitigation measures would need to be considered.

Yet, even with the best measures, NDP leader Lorraine Michael is advising caution in considering work into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, specifically at the Old Harry prospect. Speaking to The Telegram this morning from Ottawa, where she is participating in an all-party committee presentation on the shrimp fishery, she said exploration work there should be put on hold for now.

“I think the whole Gulf issue is very problematic because of the whole boundary dispute between Quebec and us around Old Harry, No. 1. And that has not been settled yet. So I think we’re putting ourselves in a precarious situation moving ahead with the part (of the prospect) that we do have some recognized jurisdiction over,” she said.

She said granting licences and permits for work in the Gulf, without settling standing disputes with neighbouring provinces, risks increasing the intensity of those disputes. And there is also the consideration of how other provinces might be impacted in the event of an accident.

“I think we should put Old Harry on hold until all this stuff gets worked out,” she said.

Click here for more on Corridor Resources/Old Harry

Meanwhile, the Board is now deep into work on updating its Eastern SEA, including the area with all of the province’s producing oil projects and exploration areas such as the Orphan Basin and Flemish Pass. As reported, public meetings for that regional assessment were held in the fall and the call for comments on the draft report closed in April.

Oil Boom or Bust for the Gulf of St. Lawrence? An op-ed by Angela Carter

Angela Carter was born in Newfoundland and is part of research project studying environmental assessment processes of oil and gas exploration. Read her op-ed below, and listen to her interview on Voice of Bonne Bay community radio, out of Gros Morne, Newfoundland.

Oil Boom or Bust for the Gulf of St. Lawrence? Public Meetings In Progress October 1, 2012

Op-Ed by Angela Carter

Over the next weeks, the global debate around oil and gas development is coming to the doorstep of communities in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Due to unprecedented public concerns expressed about drilling at the Old Harry site (just 70 kilometers off the west coast of Newfoundland), the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is holding public meetings on the whether major oil and gas development is appropriate in the Western Gulf given the environmental risks.

Public meetings were scheduled on very short notice. They are already in progress in western Newfoundland and will soon continue to Québec, NB, PEI, and NS. The schedules are here

The meetings represent the only opportunity during this process for local people to have any input, voice concerns, and ask questions in person.

The public consultation provides an opportunity to ask a tough question: are we on the right track given the global climate change implications of oil? As world-renowned economists Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs have argued, fossil-fuel based societies are also economic fossils. Truly innovative, forward-looking communities, they claim, are focused on the new energy economy and promoting sustainable renewable energy while dramatically decreasing consumption.  These places have a chance for long-term economic stability and healthy communities. The
oil-dependent will be left behind.

An equally tough question is whether or not oil and gas development in the western portion of the Gulf poses serious risks to the environment, health, and long-term economic viability of local communities. DFO has pegged the value of the commercial fisheries in the Gulf of St. Lawrence at $1.5 billion a year.  Yet oil spills and blowouts in other places have shut down fisheries and ruined product reputation for years.

Moreover, oil development is planned along the coast of Gros Morne National Park, our prized UNESCO World Heritage Site. A recent Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society report noted that the tourism sector generates the most revenue in the region, $35 million a year, and employs 1,300 people. Visitors to western Newfoundland come to experience natural beauty, not industrial oil sites. As communities in the Gulf of Mexico learned after the blowout, spills decimate tourism.

More worrisome still are current regulations limiting liability to $30 million dollars. Yet the cost of the Gulf of Mexico spill has run over tens of billions.  Further, there are plenty of examples of oil companies fighting to avoid paying compensation to communities. Legal battles played out over decades after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

Oil companies and public officials commonly argue that everyone benefits from oil and gas—from construction workers to restaurant servers. But global, historical evidence shows that communities where oil is extracted are often burdened with long-term economic, health, and environmental costs, as well as a decline in quality of life.  The communities at the point of extraction seldom experience the majority of the benefits. Most wealth goes to foreign companies or central governments that often don’t use the money wisely or fairly.

These are some of the potential problems posed by offshore oil development in the western Gulf. Citizens might also ask a few more tough questions.

Does the Board have complete baseline data on all key Gulf species and ecosystems? Does the Board have a complete scientific understanding of the impacts of seismic exploration? Has this research been done by independent scientists, researchers who were not paid by industry?

Will the Board follow the example of provinces like Québec, states like Vermont, and countries like France, to ban hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), given the significant negative human health, environmental, and economic impacts of this industry?

Will the Board halt nomination, leasing, exploration, and development activity until this Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is complete?  As noted in the Scoping Document, the point of the SEA is to ensure “the incorporation of environmental considerations at the earliest stages of program planning.” Continuing with oil development activity while the SEA is in progress runs counter to the spirit of the assessment.

Local people have one small window to voice their concerns about the future of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The debate is too important and the stakes are too high to stay at home.

Angela V. Carter, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Waterloo