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Drilling For Oil in the Gulf of St. Lawrence Without a Clue


On August 1st, Halifax was the site of a press conference regarding the drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf of St-Lawrence.  Speaking at the press conference were Mary Gorman (Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition), Dr. Lindy Weilgart (seismic effect on ocean life, including whales), Dr. Tom Duck (atmospheric scientist and active in denouncing cuts to science) and Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada.

The press conference brought some much-needed attention to the situation in the Gulf of St-Lawrence as well as to the regulatory changes enacted as part of Bill C-38, the latest budget bill.

The article below, from the Toronto Star, was published a few days after the press conference.


Drilling for oil in the Gulf of St. Lawrence without a clue
Published on Sunday August 05, 2012

Buried deep in last spring’s federal budget is an amendment that will open the Gulf of St. Lawrence to resource companies that want to drill for oil there.
Buried within the more than 400 pages of this spring’s federal omnibus budget bill is an invitation for resource companies to open a new frontier in Canadian oil: the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The gulf, which touches the coastlines of Canada’s five easternmost provinces, is the world’s largest estuary. It’s home to more than 2,000 species of marine wildlife — an ecosystem integral to the health of our Atlantic and Great Lakes fisheries.

Now, due to measures deep in the federal budget, that ecosystem may be under threat. The bill explicitly highlights the region’s potential for petroleum extraction and includes amendments to the Coasting Trade Act that give oil companies greater access to exploration vessels.

Corridor Resources Inc., a small Halifax-based company, is seeking to take advantage of the budget’s deregulation by applying to drill the first-ever deep-water well in the gulf. It’s just what the budget bill sought — and just what scientists and concerned citizens in the region have been fighting for years.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May sounded the alarm last week, warning Canadians about the dangers of the project. A spill in the gulf would be a particular disaster, scientists who accompanied her said, because, due to the estuary’s counterclockwise tidal currents, it empties into the Atlantic only once per year. That means oil would almost certainly reach five coastlines, affecting land and livelihoods in all provinces touching on the gulf.

Even if no oil is spilled, the seismic method of exploration that Corridor proposes can be disfiguring or deadly for the gulf’s inhabitants. “Marine mammals and fish are highly impacted by seismic surveys,” said Lindy Weilgart, a biologist at Dalhousie University. “To carry out this destruction in as productive and biologically rich an area as the gulf is madness.”

Of course, there’s a debate to be had about how to negotiate between the economic benefits and environmental hazards of offshore oil. But for defenders of the gulf, it seems no debate is available.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, which is responsible for evaluating Corridor’s proposal by July 2013, will have no way of measuring the nature or extent of the environmental risks. The budget rescinded the requirement for environmental assessments of exploratory drilling and crippled the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research, the federal agency best equipped to deliver such assessments.

The federal government has picked oil and brushed aside concerns about the environment — and all this buried within the behemoth budget bill. If the government insists that we risk a rich and important ecosystem for the prospect of underwater oil, it should not be allowed to sneak that choice past us in a footnote.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 2012/08/07 12:57 am

    This whole business of adding amendments and bills ‘buried’ in legislation is a corruption of the democratic process that has gone on way too long. Each and every component of a budget should certainly be exposed to sunshine before being included and attached. Without a regulatory agency conducting ‘honest’ environmental protection assessment you are doomed! Canada was once a leader in the earth consciousness what has gone so wrong? Earth First!

    • 2012/08/07 7:48 am

      And that is exactly what environmental groups and the opposition parties were asking for: get the changes to environmental regulation out of the budget. However, it was all part of “stimulating the economy”. Their plan is to create conditions that will allow resource companies to do what they do with as little “obstruction” as possible.
      I completely agree with you. Earth First! This idea that we can live independent of natural ecosystems is completely ridiculous. And the Gulf is a wonderful example – thousands (if not millions) of people in Atlantic Canada depend on the Gulf for their lively hood. And all it would take is one spill to ruin it all.
      But, it ain’t over yet! There are a lot of people fighting this tooth and nail.

  2. Martin Lack permalink
    2012/08/07 6:41 am

    I do hope your fellow Canadians will now wake-up to the reality of the Frankenstein monster they have unleashed upon your Country by allowing the unconservative gobvernment to enact Bill C-38. Presumably tides go up and down the estuary twice daily but water only leaves the Gulf once per year??? Does that mean it is a brackish (as opposed to normal salinity) environment?

    • 2012/08/07 7:54 am

      The “circular” current in the Gulf means that the water in the Gulf doesn’t mix as quickly with the open ocean as would, for example, the Gulf of Mexico. While the acidity of water in the world’s oceans has increased by 30%, acidity in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has actually increased 50-90%. This is because of this lack of “mixing” with they greater volume of the oceans. So, if an oil spill were to occur, rather than being pushed towards the nearest shore, the circular current would smear the oil on (according to simulations) into the waters and onto the coasts of every province in Atlantic Canada.

      • Martin Lack permalink
        2012/08/07 8:10 am

        Holy shirt! That means that if the Gateway pipeline is permitted, you could end up in a hydrocarbon sandwich – where the hydrocarbons are the bread and Canada is the filling… 😦

      • 2012/08/07 10:33 am

        Interesting visual. However, if they end up building the proposed pipeline from the Tar Sands to the Maritimes (yes, that is actually being considered), the analogy is ruined… along with Canada!

    • 2012/08/07 7:57 am

      As for my “fellow Canadians” waking up… unfortunately, the Conservative government had done a great job selling this bill as a way to improve the economy. Many people in Canada see no problem with oil exploration, no matter how or where – as long as it isn’t in their back yards! How else can we explain the support for the monstrosity that is the Alberta Tar Sands.

      • Martin Lack permalink
        2012/08/07 8:06 am

        I can but offer my condolences.

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