P.E.I. beaches at risk from drilling in Gulf

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Mary Gorman, a spokesperson for the Save our Seas and Shores coalition that wants a ban on all oil and gas activities in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is shown here with writer Farley Mowat. Mowat, who died Tuesday, was a tireless defender of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was announced Monday that oil and gas exploration will proceed in the Gulf.

By Joanne Cook and Mark Butler (guest opinion)

Nova Scotia’s Ecology Action Centre is joining a growing crowd of voices calling for an immediate moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration and development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This week’s recommendation to green-light oil and gas exploration and development in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence puts all its beaches, fishing communities, and natural environments at risk.

The Canada-Newfoundland Petroleum Board’s released its Strategic Environmental Assessment for Western Newfoundland late on Monday.

What’s so special about the Gulf of St. Lawrence? Its shores include the beaches of Prince Edward Island National Park, Kouchibouguac National Park and les Îles de la Madeleine, the majestic sweeps of the vistas of the Cabot Trail, iconic symbols like Percé Rock and Île Bonaventure and the cliffs and coves of western Newfoundland.

Fisheries like lobster and snow crab support thousands of families in all five provinces. First Nations and Aboriginal communities fish salmon and eel in its rivers and estuaries. Endangered blue whales, bluefin tuna, belugas, the remaining northern cod and many other valued species feed, spawn, mate, and rear young in the waters of the Gulf.

 All could be at risk from an oil spill or well blow-out. Blue whales, other marine mammals and turtles are particularly vulnerable to the acoustic effects of seismic blasting, which have been shown to distress them, interfere with hearing and interrupt their feeding and travel.

The Gulf of St. Lawrence is a semi-closed system, and iced over much of the year. Its currents run counter-clockwise — meaning any spill would get carried west before it goes east into the open Atlantic. The Gulf as a whole only flushes itself once a year. How can the Board possibly think that it could keep oil spills under control in that environment?

Atlantic Canada has a larger proportion of its offshore open to oil and gas than any other jurisdiction in North America. Closing the Gulf to oil and gas would still leave 85 per cent of offshore Atlantic Canada open to oil and gas activity. Keeping seismic blasting and drilling out of the Gulf is the right thing to do.

All of these issues cross provincial lines. Right now, the CNLOPB, the federal government, and the government of Newfoundland and Labrador need to get it together, and they need to take the Aboriginal rights of the Innu, Malecite, and Mi’kmaq into account and properly consult with them. But more broadly — all the provinces touching the Gulf must collaborate with Canada and First Nations to protect its shores.

We need a moratorium in the Gulf, just like we have on Georges Bank. And we need it now, before this nonsense proceeds any further. The Gulf of St. Lawrence is one of the world’s special places. Its wildlife, its birds, its fish, and its peoples deserve protection — now.


Joanne Cook is marine toxics co-ordinator, and Mark Butler, is policy director, Ecology Action Centre, Halifax

Organizations: First Nations, Canada-Newfoundland Petroleum Board, Strategic Environmental Assessment for Western Newfoundland Georges Bank

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Atlantic Canada Prince Edward Island National Park Kouchibouguac National Park Îles de la Madeleine North America

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