Almost fifteen years ago, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board issued shoreline leases on both sides of stunningly beautiful Cape Breton Island. We formed a Coalition with fishermen, First Nations and coastal landowners and fought this battle for over three years. Until the companies just kind of went away after DFO scientists determined that our Gulf waters are too vulnerable for oil and gas development because of “sensitive life stages of marine organisms that are present year around”.
In fact, the Gulf of St Lawrence is a breeding area for over 2,200 marine species. Dr David Suzuki calls it “one of the most precious ecosystems on earth”.
With coastlines on half of Canada’s provinces, (NS, NB, PEI, QC and NL), this inland sea is home for lobster, herring, snowcrab, mackerel, tuna, groundfish, whales and dolphins, to name a few. Fragile Atlantic salmon, cod and wolfish, fin whale, and humpback whale are listed of special concern. Right whale, piping plover, leatherback turtle, harlequin duck and blue whale are endangered. It supports a global food supply, multi-billion dollar renewable fishery and tourism industries and tens of thousands of jobs.
The lease we are fighting now is called ‘Old Harry’, an ancient mariner’s term for the devil. In NL waters, this lease is in the Laurentian Channel, home to the largest concentration of krill in the NW Atlantic, which is a vital part of our Gulf’s food chain. It is held by Corridor Resources, the same company we fought a decade ago.
We are worried about this deepwater well (like BP’s Macondo well was), because exploratory wells are the most dangerous and the affected area in the Gulf of Mexico disaster was larger than our entire Gulf.
The petroleum industry say they will mitigate risk. But mitigation can only happen if enough science exists on each species to determine how to mitigate. According to DFO – “With few exceptions, our knowledge of early life stages of marine organisms are poor. Little is known about the habitat requirements of all life stages.”
How can you mitigate when you don’t have enough knowledge to determine what needs to be mitigated? This is why the precautionary principle was implemented at the UN Convention on Biodiversity in 1992.
The oil industry talks about co-existence. We have been co-existing with industrial development in the Gulf for a long time. Pulp mill effluent, pesticides, pollution from the St. Lawrence river, rock quarries, the Irving Whale are but a few examples of industrial threats we have fought. From these battles we know now that we have more co-existence than our Gulf can handle.
It is now suffering from ocean acidification (from absorbing excessive amounts of CO2); and hypoxia (lack of oxygen).
How can there be co-existence if vulnerable spawning, nursery and migratory areas are up for grabs?
We feel betrayed by governments who are gambling recklessly and have created such an offshore regulatory quagmire in the Gulf that five provinces are trying to cut up a single body of water. The problem is, water moves and fish don’t recognize provincial boundaries. They swim through them.
These unelected Boards allow the oil industry to monitor their own safety and environmental requirements. How did the protection of marine habitat end up in the hands of the petroleum industry?
According to Canada’s Fisheries Minister, our east coast fishery exports $3 billion dollars a year. Does anyone believe that living marine resources generating $3billion annually would need NO sensitive areas to be protected from seismic blasting, gas flaring and chronic degradation? Especially, an inland sea on five province’s coastlines in one of the windiest regions in North America, with counter clockwise currents, whose waters flush like a toilet into the Atlantic only once a year? With no possibility of cleaning up a spill under winter ice?
Furthermore, a moratorium in our Gulf and on Georges Bank only represents 12% of east coast waters. Is protecting 12% of our historic oceans too much to ask?
We want our global food source, property values, recreational pleasures and unique Maritime culture to be sustainable for future generations. At a time in history when our atmosphere and oceans cannot absorb any more CO2 without disastrous consequences, it doesn’t make sense to risk renewable resources to exploit the ocean floor’s fossil fuels.
Please consider what we are leaving our children and our responsibility as caretakers for this earth. We need our governments to protect the public interest by implementing a carbon tax and any other measures to lower the amount of CO2 in our oceans and atmosphere as quickly as possible.
Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition
PO Box 47 Merigomish NS B0K 1G0
Mary Gorman is an oceans activist, writer and coastal landowner who grew up and lives on the Gulf of St. Lawrence.