Georges Bank: A River Runs Through it

If you’re a Maritimer, it’s easy to get excited about a possible big oil strike off our shores.

I well remember the hoopla over Sable Island discoveries in the 1970s and the then Premier Gerald Regan holding a small vial of oil to a group of media types in Halifax — the photo made front page in the daily newspapers of the time.

There’s not a coastal community along our shores that hasn’t seen the population decline due to the lack of jobs here and the well-paying ones in the oil patch out west.

Many towns have been decommissioned, so to speak, because the population couldn’t support the infrastructure.

Similar scenarios are sure to play out again this year.

Which is why the potential, and it is purely that at this time, of major fossil finds in the depths at the edge of the Scotian Shelf in an area known as the Shelburne Basin, seems like manna from heaven.

But all manna comes with a price.

Shell Oil completed testing at this site over the past little while and has announced intentions of drilling seven exploratory wells during a four-year span at a cost of about a billion dollars.

This is deep water stuff, like the Deep Ocean Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. You remember that one?

While visions of sugar plum trees and new SUVs in the driveway may clutter one’s head at this time, there are a few things which the good people of this part of the world should consider.

When you consider the cozy arrangement between Big Oil and Big Government in terms of the environment (the Alberta tar sands is Exhibit No. 1), the decision on Georges Bank isn’t all that clear cut. And allowing drilling in the Shelburne Basin could very well lead to a catastrophe envisioned by those opposing oil and gas exploration on the fishing bank whose ownership is shared by both Canada and the U.S.

John Davis hails from Shelburne. A former fishermen and fishplant owner, he was a founding director of NORIGS in the 1980s which was formed to protect Georges Bank from any encroachment by Big Oil.

He knows a thing or two about our slice of the Atlantic very well, leading dive expeditions during the past 18 years for National Geographic, Discovery Channel, History Television and working with Google on their Google Earth platform.

Davis recently wrote a very long Open Letter to the Editor of a local weekly, The Shelburne Coast Guard, in which he laid out some of the problems the Shelburne Basin project might pose for Georges Bank and other fishing banks along Nova Scotia’s western shoreline, as well as the shore itself. (See related article in the February issue of The Navigator).

He isn’t against drilling for oil and gas as long as “the process in the Shelburne Gully is carried out in conjunction with and in respectful partnership with a watchful and supportive South Shore Community and fishing industry.”

Davis is particularly concerned about Shell’s ability to deal with a major oil spill at the well head.

Remember, these wells are in very deep water in an area not unaccustomed to storms i.e. nor’easters, etc.

The Labrador Current runs right along the edge of the Scotian Shelf but rises up to smack Georges Bank right in the eye. This infusion of nutrient rich deep sea water is what makes Georges Bank, Browns Bank, German Bank and other fishing areas in the Gulf of Maine and along the western Scotian Shelf so productive from an ecological point of view.

The introduction of oil into this current, providing the winds and tide were right, would carry the pollutant right into Georges and other fishing banks and even the coastline between Halifax and Shelburne.

These are important issues that must be dealt with. Ottawa should be leading the way to ensure the protection of a valuable resource, the rich fishing banks off our coasts.

But here we are in 2015 and the moratorium on Georges Bank is floundering in the backwater because Ottawa hasn’t signed on to extend the ban on oil and gas exploration and drilling on the area — probably waiting for next fall’s election.

When you consider the cozy arrangement between Big Oil and Big Government in terms of the environment (the Alberta tar sands is Exhibit No. 1), the decision on Georges Bank isn’t all that clear cut. And allowing drilling in the Shelburne Basin could very well lead to a catastrophe envisioned by those opposing oil and gas exploration on the fishing bank whose ownership is shared by both Canada and the U.S.

Alain Meuse

Contributor - Nova Scotia

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