Quebec Seeks Jurisdiction Royalties Over Old Harry Project in Gulf of St. Lawrence

If you source, harvest, or produce your seafood from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, you should be aware that the Province of Quebec has deposited law # 49 to acquire jurisdiction from the federal government over subsea resources in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The mirrored legislation, already introduced in Quebec, would make way for the province to drill the Old Harry prospect. The legislation proposes that Quebec receive 100 per cent of the royalties and tax revenues from its petroleum activities.

While the legislation would force petroleum companies to demonstrate that they have $1 billion in damages in the case of a spill, it fails to acknowledge the interest of other provinces and that fisheries in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are worth more than $1 billion per year.

It is my understanding from much of the rhetoric that the province also intends to challenge the 1964 provincial delineation and redraw its baselines equidistant from the bird rocks, a small rock north east of the Magdalen Islands. This strategy would displace the Newfoundland ownership claim over Old Harry.

While Quebec worries about who gets what, the Maritime provinces will get nothing but 100 per cent of the risks. From the Old Harry deposit, simulations by the Rimouski ocean research centres (ISMER) have established that only 10 days after a spill, large parts of the Gulf of St. Lawrence would be covered in oil.

While spill patterns vary depending on the seasons, currents in the Gulf are generally counter clockwise and it can take up to a year for it to completely flush out. Winter ice coverage would make an oil spill impossible to clean. Impacts on fish stocks migrating to and from the Atlantic are highly likely given that they must travel through the Laurentian Channel, which is the drill site for Old Harry.

At this point in time, the federal government has not yet granted Quebec jurisdiction over a very large portion of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Minister of Natural Resources and the National Energy Board are still examining petroleum development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (aside from limited areas covered by N.S. and N.L. petroleum boards).

Of course, being from the Magdalen Islands, I am biased against development; but, that being understood, I would suggest that the Maritime provinces lobby for the Gulf of St. Lawrence to stay under common federal jurisdiction. Before Quebec is granted anything, the Maritime provinces could force the issue to a review panel. This process would provide an in-depth Environmental Assessment Act  consultation.

According to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency “The Minister of the Environment may refer an environmental assessment to a review panel if the Minister is of the opinion that it is in the public interest to do so. A review panel is a group of independent experts appointed by the Minister of the Environment to conduct an environmental assessment.”

In the absence of such intervention, take note that laws around exploratory drilling have been relaxed and no longer require public consultation. With a Gulf six times smaller than the Gulf of Mexico and bordering five provinces with important coastal populations, many will assume the risk of development.

These populations must be entitled to an integrated consultation process which takes into account the fact that water moves and that spills and fish don’t respect provincial borders.

As it stands, English media has not even picked up on Quebec’s actions or intentions. Today, I tell you this because if you make your living from the Gulf of St. Lawrence you are entitled to a voice.

Marilyn Clark
Halifax, Nova Scotia

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