[ST. JOHN'S, NL] — It’s a fair question. Even if Newfoundland and Labrador is willing to take on the risks associated with drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is it fair to place that risk on our geographical neighbours?
About 30 people attended an evening in-formation and discussion session on the subject of development in the Gulf at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s St. John’s campus Thursday night.
The event featured a presentation by the members of the St. Lawrence Coalition — an organization formed in 2010 at the forefront of a developing debate over whether or not to allow development in the Gulf.
Distance is a main point they make. In the case of the Old Harry prospect site, according to the group, drilling would take place about 300 kilometres from the Gaspé, 210 km from Prince Edward Island, 120 km from Cape Breton, 80 km from the Magdalen Islands and approximately 70 km from the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Compare this with the 315-350 km or more to reach the oilfields currently producing offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.
Because of this, the coalition — now claiming more than 80 member organizations, with over 3,500 individual members — is calling for a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf until a large-scale, truly regional consultation can take place. According to the group, sites for public meetings within the consultation process should include areas within Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.
Presenters at the session in St. John’s included Jean-Patrick Toussaint of the David Suzuki Foundation, Danielle Giroux of Attention Fragile and Sylvain Archambault of CPAWS Quebec.
Past-president of Nature NL and a faculty member at MUN, Len Zedel, was also on hand to assist in the presentation, providing a basic overview of Gulf oceanography.
The team ran through the potential impact of a Gulf oil spill on fishing, aquaculture and tourism. It noted at-risk and endangered species. It highlighted the 13 species of whales found in the Gulf, the 120 Atlantic salmon rivers. There are some of the world’s largest gannet colonies, the team pointed out, with those birds known to criss-cross the Gulf.
The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is beginning work to update its own regional environmental assessment of the area offshore in western Newfoundland, looking at many of the same considerations.
According to the coalition, this work should be broader.
The David Suzuki Foundation has developed maps of what might happen in the event of an oil spill at the Old Harry site. Thee maps do not take response efforts into consideration, yet suggest a spill at Old Harry could see oil reaching to the Maritimes.
On the proposed moratorium, Giroux said, “It’s not a ‘no’ to the industry. It’s an open position to see how can we act with precaution.”
Despite the presenters encouraging open conversation on the pros and cons of oil and gas developments, it was clear there was no love lost among the group for Halifax-based Corridor Resources — the company that has proposed on more than one occasion to drill into the Old Harry prospect to test for its potential as an oil and gas producer.
“They have no experience at all in the offshore,” Archambault said of the company.
Collectively, the coalition is calling for the moratorium to provide more time for authorities to evaluate potential impacts of a spill off western Newfoundland, establish integrated management of the Gulf, revise the legal and technical norms for greater protection and allow residents to make an informed, collective choice as to whether any development should happen at all.
The visiting coalition members have also held sessions in Corner Brook and Stephenville.