The coming year promises to be one with plenty of news relevant to oil exploration in western Newfoundland into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Some of the debate around seeking oil in the Gulf will be coming from the Quebec side, as the provincial government there, on Dec. 19, issued a call for tenders on an economic assessment of oil exploration and development in the area known as Old Harry, about 80 kilometres east of the Magdalen Islands, and the American Bank, about 15 kilometres east of Pointe Saint-Pierre in the Gaspé Peninsula.
The call is being met with dismay from anti-drilling activists based in Quebec, including a coalition of chiefs from the Innu, Malécite and Mi’gmaq communities of Quebec.
“The gulf is a unique and fragile area,” said Chief Claude Jeannotte of the Mi’gmaq community of Gespeg, a spokesperson for the coalition, in a Dec. 23 statement.
“Our peoples have depended on it since time immemorial and we will not allow the government of Quebec to destroy it.”
On Old Harry
The offshore area known as Old Harry, about 80 kilometres east of Magdalen Islands, is of interest to companies with stakes on the Newfoundland and Labrador side of the border as well as the Quebec side.
Corridor Resources has proposed drilling an exploration well in this province’s Old Harry area, on a licence awarded by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) — EL1105.
In 2013, despite protests from individuals and groups standing in opposition to oil exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the CNLOPB granted Corridor an extension on its exploration licence, giving it until Jan. 2016, to drill.
It prompted a letter to the CNLOPB leadership, as well as the provincial and federal ministers of Natural Resources, from Sylvain Archambault, a spokesman writing for the anti-drilling St. Lawrence Coalition.
“Oil and gas development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is, ultimately, an inter-provincial issue of great concern to many individuals and stakeholder groups,” he stated. “These groups and people are closely observing what the CNLOPB, and the Newfoundland and Labrador and federal Natural Resource ministers, are deciding in the Gulf. Let’s make sure their concerns are heard and respected.”
Corridor’s plan to drill has been on hold since the CNLOPB began a strategic environmental review for the entire region offshore western Newfoundland — essentially a broad environmental assessment.
The results of that review are expected in the coming year.
Closer to shore, Shoal Point Energy is continuing to hold two remaining offshore licences, after losing one to inactivity.
Given the timelines around the offshore licences, set against the backdrop of past suggestions of onshore to offshore drilling by the company and the provincial government’s standing moratorium on fracking in the area, 2014 is bound to include more than a few instances of back and forth.
There are already calls from the provincial Liberals and NDP for government to get moving on lifting their fracking ban, moving the regulatory needle one direction or the other.
The full halt on fracking was officially announced in November, with the
promise of an official review by the province.
Liberal Jim Bennett has since been a vocal proponent for getting on as quickly as possible with developing regulations around the practice of fracking.
And on Dec. 23, the NDP issued a news release beginning as follows: “What (MHA) George Murphy wants most for Christmas is a public and transparent review of hydraulic fracturing.”
Murphy is the NDP’s Environment critic.
“The potential negatives of fracking could affect so much in this province that government must both take it seriously and be seen to be taking it seriously,” he said in his pre-Christmas statement.
So what will the government have to do to be recognized as taking the issue and its coming review seriously?
Murphy has suggested Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley appoint an arm’s-length panel for the fracking review in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Who could be considered expert enough to appoint to the panel, yet arms-length enough to satisfy the firm fracking opponents? Murphy did not say.