Deafening silence on Gulf drilling

Canada - Newfoundland Labrador board OKs oil exploration, drilling in Gulf of St. Lawrence

Published on June 17, 2014

Anti-drilling group, the St. Lawrence Coalition, has released this report on oil exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

It’s very surprising there has been little in the way of “official” reaction thus far to an April report that gives the green light to exploration and drilling for oil and gas off the western coast of Newfoundland. The report, commissioned by the Canada - Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, says there are significant environmental risks but those are insufficient to halt drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Apart from a number of environmental groups trying to draw attention to this announcement, reaction has been muted from Atlantic governments or major municipalities. There were attempts to get the issue on the agenda when Atlantic premiers met recently in New Brunswick — to no avail. There was hope the matter might at least be discussed informally but there was no apparent mention in any communiqués.

The CNLOPB report got scant coverage in regional media. It’s almost as if few people are taking the report seriously. The Newfoundland and Labrador government is already heavily engaged in deep ocean drilling — much to its immense economic benefit - and perhaps doesn’t see the big concern with drilling in the shallower and more contained Gulf off its west coast.

It’s that containment which should be striking fear and concern into provinces bordering the Gulf. An oil spill will have nowhere to go except onto our shores and beaches and into our harbours. It might not seem like a big deal for the N.L. government but it should be a very big deal for Quebec (Iles-de-la-Madeleine), P.E.I., N.B. and N.S. should there be a major spill.

It’s even more surprising how the Canada - N.L. board could make such a critically important decision without input from provinces which will be directly affected by any oil spills. One only has to look at what happened recently when a single oil well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing a number of workers and devastating shorelines, habitats and livelihoods for a number of Gulf coast states.

Atlantic governments are certainly cash-strapped and P.E.I. is the most resource poor province in the country. Are we taking a wait and see attitude with western N.L. drilling? Is this province hoping that drilling there proves to be safe, successful and lucrative — and that perhaps we could cash in on some revenue-generating wells close to P.E.I.? Are we hoping to reap some economic benefits that might come with drilling by our neighbour just to the north?

We are all aware of how fragile and important the Gulf is as a habitat for fish stocks and incredible numbers of marine life. It should not be up to any federal or provincial board to put our province at risk. Can you imagine what would happen if a major spill found its way to our north shore beaches? Tourism would be effectively ended for years to come. Older Islanders can still remember the panic in September 1970 when the Irving Whale barge sank off the north shore of P.E.I. with 4,200 tons of Bunker C oil aboard. It went down just over 30 miles from North Cape and remained a constant environmental threat until a salvage operation in 1996 safely raised the Whale to the immense relief of all.

Environmental groups, First Nations communities and fishery representatives from five Canadian provinces are pushing for a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They argue that one well blowout could destroy the Gulf ‘s ecosystem. They’re right. Where are our provincial and municipal politicians on this matter? Is anyone listening?