Growing Concerns Over Proposed Scotian Shelf Petroleum Exploration

Approval is pending on two offshore petroleum projects on the Scotian Shelf off the coast of Nova Scotia.

BP Canada Energy Group ULC (BP) wants to conduct a deep-water drilling exploration project in the Scotian Basin that could see as many as seven wells drilled in waters 230 to 370 kilometres off the southeast coast, along the Scotian Shelf between 2018 and 2022 (exploration licences 2431, 2432, 2433 and 2434).

Statoil Canada Ltd. is seeking the approval of 3D seismic survey exploration licenses for offshore parcels 2435 and 2436, which are adjacent to Georges Bank and North Atlantic right whale critical habitat in Roseway Basin.

Both projects could begin this spring if granted approval and both have the fishing industry and environmentalists concerned for a number of reasons.

“We have major concerns,” said John Davis, Director of the Clean Ocean Action Committee (COAC). “There’s lots to worry about on all fronts and we don’t have a good functional regulatory regime that’s actually doing the work they should be doing. They’ve kind of bought into the oil industry’s line about the use of dispersants when they have no way to clean up an oil spill and they have convinced our regulator that spraying dispersants and pushing this stuff into the water column and making it disappear is somehow equivalent to cleaning up an oil spill and it isn’t. They basically believe the solution to pollution is dilution. Spread it out into the water so no one can find it and no one can evaluate the damage. Our regulators have bought it so if you’re concerned about renewable resources on the Scotian Shelf, be worried.”

The application by BP was submitted to the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NSOPB) last fall and has gone through the public comment period on the draft Environmental Assessment Report being conducted by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).

The final Environmental Assessment Report submitted by the CEAA to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change is pending. Based on the final Environmental Assessment Report, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change will issue to the proponent an environmental assessment Decision Statement with enforceable conditions, should the project be allowed to proceed.

Gretchen Fitzgerald, National Program Director of Sierra Club Canada Foundation Offshore, said the response time by BP of up to 30 days to deal with a blowout is “pretty worrisome,” given the proximity to the Gully Marine Protected Area, which is home to bottlenose whales and deep sea corals.

“The worst-case scenario entertained in this EA (environmental assessment) is a blow-out whose unmitigated release duration lasts 30 days. It appears this number was drawn from a hat, with no reference to relevant experience,” stated the Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia (CPONS) in their response to the CEAA’s draft report on BP’s proposed offshore drilling program.

“It ignores the fact that the Gulf Horizons blow-out lasted almost three times that long, and in waters far shallower than those in the Scotian Basin.”

The CPONS points out in their submission to the CEAA that “The proponent admits that the effects of an uncontrolled spill could reach the fishing grounds on the Emerald Bank in as little as six days and Georges Bank in as little as 20 days, both frightening possibilities. Once again, the suggestion that mitigation measures might prevent this is without evidential foundation. The catastrophic consequences of such an event are barely recognized.”

Meanwhile on the southwestern Scotian Shelf, Statoil Canada Ltd. is proposing to conduct a 3D seismic survey in exploration licences 2435 and 2436, located about 350 kilometres southwest of Halifax.

The two parcels were leased to Statoil by the C-NSOPB on Jan. 15, 2016 and cover areas of 3,677 km2 and 2,842 km2 respectively.

“We’re totally concerned about that,” said Davis. “They literally share a boundary with George’s Bank. If they start in the spring that’s the spawning time for haddock, cod, flounder, lobsters, scallops, all sorts of stuff and seismic activity has a negative impact on all of it. It’s also not far from a right whale sanctuary on Browns Bank. Yes, we’re concerned.”

David said there was opposition to those two sites even being released in the 2015 call for bids by both COAC and the CPONS. Coupled with recent scientific studies that has come out that seismic is a form of pollution that has a measurable impact on spawning and other marine forms, we have to be cautious about it, said Davis.

“More and more scientific evidence is coming to light that seismic airgun surveys that precede oil exploration and are to detect oil reservoirs below the sea floor have a pervasive, widespread impact on the entire ecosystem, from plankton, through fish, lobsters, crab and scallops, right up to whales,” said Dr. Linda Weilgart, who is an international expert on the impacts of seismic on marine mammals.

The Statoil Waverly Seismic Program project is undergoing review.

“The C-NSOPB has determined that an EA for this project is required to determine whether the project may result in significant adverse environmental effects before issuing an authorization, reads the scoping document for the environmental assessment Statoil Waverley 3D seismic survey exploration Licenses 2435 and 2436, released last fall.

“This program will also be subject to regulatory review under the federal Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Migratory Bird Convention Act 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The C-NSOPB will delegate the preparation of the EA to the proponent and will make a determination of the potential for significant adverse environmental effects following review of the EA.”

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