Municipal councillors in many Nova Scotia coastal communities are facing financial difficulties due to the lack of economic diversification and an aging population.
Now local governments are being asked to pressure both the federal and provincial government to permanently remove Sites 3 and 4 from any future Canada Nova Scotia Petroleum Board (C-NSOPB) oil and gas exploratory lease site auctions.
The demand is being made by the Clean Ocean Action Committee (COAC), an amalgam of harvester associations or organizations, including the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association. Town councils recently received a 20 page report on the rational for such a demand.
The gist of COAC’s arguments centre on the proximity of major fishing, nursery and spawning areas to these two sites and the lack of a plausible clean-up plan in the case of a major oil spill.
The area has been the primary resource supporting coastal Nova Scotia for decades. This multi-faceted, year-round fishery is the economic backbone to a large number of coastal communities along Nova Scotia’s western Scotian Shelf and areas abutting the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy.
At issue is the use of dispersants and a time lag of 72 hours from the beginning of a spill to the arrival of vessels and equipment to deal with the problem.
Numerous studies since the disastrous Deep Water Horizon experience in the Gulf of Maine in 2010 show that it would have been better to let the natural elements take care of the spill rather than using chemical dispersants.
The COAC report states that “We are faced with the stark reality that Shell Canada has no capacity, nor any regulatory responsibility to actually clean up any large offshore oil spill.”
The area has unique tides and out floes from the Gulf of Maine and attracts ‘perfect storms’ each year.
The spraying of chemical dispersants in Site 3 and 4, which are adjacent to Browns, Baccaro and LaHave Banks, would seep into the tidal flow of the Bay of Fundy and over Browns Bank, the major nursery for Nova Scotia’s billion-dollar lobster fishing industry, the COAC contends.
Site 3 is within sniffing distance of Georges Bank, which is presently under moratorium from oil and gas exploration. Spawning on this bank occurs 12 months of the year. Currents called gyres would keep the oil and or dispersants on this unique fishing eco-system.
The report also points to Norway as a nation which has found a real and functional balance between the rights of the sustainable fishery resource and the needs of the oil and gas industry.
Recently the country had a huge debate on the issue of the value of immense oil and gas reserves below the Lofoten-Vesteralen fishing and spawning grounds.
In the end the fishery won, despite good prospects for value creation and new jobs which would be created by allowing fossil fuel exploration on the fishing and spawning grounds.
“The debate boils down to the question of whether some areas have such a high biological value — regardless of the economic value of associated fishery — that even low risks of accidental spill are unacceptable, regardless of the monetary benefits of petroleum development… the government recognized that the consequences of underestimating the environmental risk in a uniquely valuable and sensitive area such as Lofoten-Vesteralen would be much more serious than in any other part of the Norwegian marine environment,” the report states.
COAC feels strongly that the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board has not done a thorough enough environmental assessment.
“The inadequate regulatory requirements that have been put in place for Shell Canada and the fact they have offered lease Sites 3 and 4 for auction are in direct conflict with any understanding of the unique features of our sustainable resources on the Scotian Shelf and specifically on Browns Bank and surrounding area. In addition, the C-NSOPB regulatory process does not appear to take into consideration the significance and growing body of scientific evidence about the role of chemical dispersants, their lack of efficacy or their negative impacts on the environment.”
The report concludes that as members of the impacted coastal communities that bear 100 per cent of the risk from oil and gas exploration on the Scotian Shelf, “we have been given no assurances that our views have been heard and we have not been offered meaningful participation. For these reasons, the work of the CNSOPB to date cannot be seen to serve the public’s interest. We do not grant the permission, that our new federal government provides for impacted communities for CNSOPB Sites 3 and 4 to be leased for oil and gas exploration or extraction. This report is an urgent call to action to all municipal governments and to all concerned citizens. The health of the offshore environment, the economic base of our communities, the health of our fisheries and the rights of our fishing industry are all at risk. It is now time to have our voices heard.”