At odds over Old Harry

County council hearing arguments from environmental group, industry association

Published on January 29, 2014

Pictou County council wants to meet with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) before it decides whether to support Save Our Seas and Shores (SOSS) on a moratorium for drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

What they’ll hear from CAPP will likely be very different from what Mary Gorman, Trudy Watts and Greg Egilsson of SOSS presented on Jan. 13.

Paul Barnes, Atlantic Canada manager with CAPP, said he’s confident in its ability to protect the gulf and those working in it.

“The offshore industry has a strong track record in Canada and other areas. We’re committed to exploration in a safe manner,” Barnes says.

That record is laid out in the draft strategic environmental assessment update, which notes there has been one blowout to date in Canadian waters that resulted in the release of hydrocarbons into the ocean and air.

“A blowout is an unplanned and uncontrolled release of petroleum from a subsea oil or gas well after a failure in the drilling system and its associated pressure control mechanisms, resulting in the continuous discharge of hydrocarbons into the surrounding waters,” the update states.

That blowout was at an exploration gas well offshore of Nova Scotia and released approximately two million cubic metres of gas and 48 cubic metres of condensate per day for 13 days in February 1984.

The update lists 14 large spills from offshore wells worldwide, including the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which had a spill size of approximately four million barrels.

Gorman, Watts and Egilsson of SOSS all cite that as an example of the trauma that can be caused for marine life, fisheries and tourism following a spill.

Thousands of dead birds, hundreds of dead turtles, lung disease in dolphins and a decline in Louisiana tourism are samples of the adverse effects that spill is believed to have had.

Gorman expects if a spill were to occur during exploration in offshore Newfoundland, it would affect Pictou County in Nova Scotia as well as every other shoreline connected to the Gulf of St. Lawrence due to the nature of the currents.

On top of affecting fisheries and tourism, Gorman believes property values would drop and that a spill would threaten Pictou County residents’ standard of living, including using local beaches for swimming and kayaking.

“It’s time we stop taking it for granted,” Gorman says of the natural environment

In correspondence with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB), Corridor Resources Inc. says it believes the likelihood of an extremely large spill in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is one out of every 25,216 wells drilled, based on statistics from CAPP.

Corridor Resources says it is confident it can drill in the Old Harry prospect safely and responsibly.

“The drilling process and its interaction with the marine environment are well understood and the environmental impact assessment process purposely identifies appropriate mitigation, where needed, to protect and safeguard marine life,” a statement from the company says.

SOSS doesn’t believe oil companies and boards are equipped to handle cleanup, especially when ice is involved, an issue that was raised during consultations for the strategic environmental assessment update.

The draft report states that any drilling proposal must include a response plan and documentation that proves they have the financial resources to respond to a spill.

The plan usually includes three different responses for three different types of spills, from small spills only using onsite resources to full blowouts that require national or  international attention.

A field exercise is conducted each year by operators, it says.

In July, the CNLOPB announced it would extend the public review of the draft report until the end of September.

A final report has not been released.

There are seven exploration licences in the western offshore area. Seismic surveys have been conducted in that area, as well as the drilling of nine wells, mostly from onshore locations.

Barnes notes past activity in that region as an example of their strong communication with fishermen.

“It demonstrates both industries can work together.”

Gorman isn’t so sure. She says there is no right time for oil-related activity and she’s concerned that ocean acidification and hypoxia — a lack of oxygen in seawater — will continue to worsen, affecting many ecosystems.

Acidification limits the ability for organisms to form calcium carbonate skeletons or shells, leaving lobster and shellfish particularly vulnerable, according to a report from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“The atmosphere and oceans can’t handle any more carbon,” Gorman says.

SOSS recently received word that seven P.E.I. municipalities are supporting their moratorium.

SOSS suggests Atlantic Canada become a model of renewable energy rather than relying on fossil fuels.

“No generation has the right to live for ourselves alone,” Gorman says.

The Pictou County committee-of-the-whole will hear from CAPP on Feb. 25 during a meeting in council chambers.

— By By Amanda Jess/The New Glasgow News