Group calls for oil and gas moratorium in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Josh Pennell
Published on June 9, 2014

A group that calls itself the St. Lawrence Coalition is calling on the federal government, as well as the provincial governments in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, P.E.I., New Brunswick, and Quebec, to place a full moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration and development in the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence.
 Jean-Patrick Toussaint is with the St. Lawrence Coalition and is also the science project manager at the David Suzuki Foundation.


“Several conditions are not in place at the moment to go ahead and do any exploration work or exploratory work or exploitation work later on,” Toussaint said.

Those conditions are highlighted in the summary of a report the group released today called Gulf 101: Oil in the Gulf of St. Lawrence — Facts, myths and future look.

Toussaint said there are too many things just not known yet such as certain knowledge about the currents of the Gulf and also reproduction of species that call it home, including some endangered.

There’s also the “Complexity of the Gulf,” as Toussaint calls it — the fact that it forms coastlines between five provinces and many coastal communities depend on the Gulf through tourism and fishing. This, he added, means there should be agreement across that many jurisdictions before exploration and exploitation were to take place.

There is also the issue of ice.

“After the Arctic it would be the only place in the world where there would be some ice cover in winter should there be any exploitation,” he said.

This is problematic because the techniques to clean up an oil spill when there’s ice cover aren’t reasonable, in the coalition’s opinion.

There has never been any oil and gas exploitation in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to date. There has been one discovery of natural gas off Cape Breton 40 years ago. There hasn’t even been any drilling done on the Old Harry site since its discovery more than 40 years ago. Still, according to the report, the potential for natural gas is considered to be significant. The coalition is asking for an independent Gulf-wide review panel with public consultations on whether offshore oil and gas activities should ever be allowed to proceed in the area.

A news release on the report also includes comments from other coalition members, such as those drawing on the constitution to protect aboriginal rights.

“Since time immemorial, the waters and shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence have been used and occupied by the Innu to the north and the Mi'gmaq to the south, for purposes including fishing, hunting, and travel. Because of these facts, we have rights that are recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and that the federal and provincial governments are obliged to consult and accommodate us in order to avoid any irreparable harm to the exercise of our rights” Troy Jerome was quoted as saying in the release.

Jerome speaks on behalf of the Innu-Mi'gmaq Alliance for the Protection of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

This province also has a voice on the coalition.

“Every year, thousands of residents and visitors to the surrounding communities spend over one billion dollars on recreational and tourism activities focused on the natural and cultural heritage of the Gulf and its scenic shores. Are we willing to risk such national treasures for unproven revenues that aren’t sustainable? That is why it is of utmost importance to us that all communities around the Gulf be consulted on what is a stake here…their future” said John Jacobs from Nature Newfoundland and Labrador.

The report itself doesn’t just go into details concerning the ecology, geology, culture and sensitivity of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but also discusses oil exploration and exploitation. The report, Toussaint said, took four years to complete.

“We’re hoping that the elements that are found in this report will at least be triggering some question marks or raising some eyebrows,” he said.

The idea is for the extensive document to now be used a reference.

“We’re hoping this to be a tool for decision-makers and coastal communities. For everyone who’s interested.”

The coalition is also insisting that the review panel and public consultations be held across the five provinces to ensure communities and First Nations from all areas potentially affected have input about the future of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.