Group calls for moratorium on drilling in Gulf of St. Lawrence

Mitch MacDonald
Published on June 9, 2014
Anti-drilling group, the St. Lawrence Coalition, has released this report on oil exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

A newly released report has united a group of fishermen, environmentalists, First Nations and others in calling for a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The report, which also recommends an arm’s-length review and public consultations, was released by the St. Lawrence Coalition Sunday during what is considered International Oceans Week.


Jean-Patrick Toussaint, one of the report’s three authors and science project manager with the David Suzuki Foundation’s Quebec office, said the report is the end product of several years of documenting the gulf and offshore drilling.

It also highlights a number of unknown factors, questions and myths involved in exploring the complex ecosystem.

“There is a need to have a gulf-wide vision and make sure all provinces are involved in the decision,” he said. “Any spill in the gulf would directly impact many coastal communities.”

The gulf touches five provinces and draws millions to it every year, including the National Park beaches on P.E.I., and also supports a number of endangered species and fishing industries.

Ellie Reddin, of the P.E.I. chapter of Save Our Seas and Shores, said the gulf needs to be treated as a whole rather than divided into provincial jurisdictions.

“Even a routine spill could have quite an impact on the gulf,” said Reddin. “There are only two openings and they’re not all that wide.”

Part of the gulf’s sensitivity lies in the fact that it’s a semi-enclosed sea, with only six per cent of it opening into the Atlantic Ocean.

That means a major difference between drilling in the gulf and the Atlantic, which Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are both now doing.

“If there are any leakages or spills (in the Atlantic), it’s still not good but it’s kind of lost at sea,” said Toussaint. “Whereas in the gulf, it’s hitting the coastline.”

There is one main area in the gulf where seismic testing has revealed oil.

While the area, known as “Old Harry,” overlaps the Newfoundland and Quebec borders, it is located in the centre of the gulf and could pose risks for all five communities if anything went wrong.

Quebec is the only province to have a moratorium on gas exploration in the gulf, while Newfoundland has been in talks with the federal government on the possibility of exploring the area.

Toussaint said while there are unknowns in the environmental effects, there are also some “legal gaps” within the regulations now in place.

One is any company drilling in the gulf can be liable for up to $30 million in the case of a spill.

While that amount is under review to be increased to $1 billion, Toussaint said that is still a small amount when compared to the possible risk.

He pointed to the costs surrounding the cleanup of the 2010 British Petroleum oil disaster, which has been estimated at $42 billion.

That spill also occurred during the exploratory process, noted Toussaint.

The report calls for a moratorium until more is discovered about exploring the gulf and if it is possible to do without devastating the environment.