Thursday, 13 December 2018
Environment featured

Coalition fears Trudeau will weaken offshore environmental regulations to benefit Big Oil

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A coalition of environmental, indigenous and fishery organizations is worried that the Trudeau government will cave in to industry pressure and surrender federal powers of marine protection to the Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and its Newfoundland and Labrador counterpart.

Petroleum Boards so reflect industry culture that it’s like setting the fox to guard the hen house, they say.

“Making offshore Boards responsible for environmental assessments will do exactly the opposite what the Trudeau government promised. It affects renewable industries worth trillions of dollars,” said Gretchen Fitzgerald of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation at today’s press conference held at the Halifax Maritime Museum. “Our greatest fear is a blowout of the kind we saw in the Gulf of Mexico.”

After the press conference the 75 environmentalists, Mi’kmaq activists and fishers marched to MP Scott Brison’s Halifax office to demand that environmental approval processes for offshore oil and gas exploration not be weakened.

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The press conference and march were organized by the Offshore Alliance, a coalition of over 25 organizations, ranging from environmental groups such as the Ecology Action Centre and the Sierra Club, to various Fishermen’s Unions and Lobstermen Associations. See this press release for a full list of its member organizations.

Both the Nova Scotia and the Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board have a bit of a split personality.

On the one hand their mandate is to license our offshore for oil and gas exploration to incredibly rich and powerful companies like Shell and BP. On the other hand, almost as an afterthought, it also has a handful of employees in charge of providing regulatory oversight.

Most of its Board members, the folks who call the shots and set the tone, have deep ties and long histories with the oil and gas industry.  

Now the coalition fears that the Trudeau government will cave in to industry pressure and give the Boards the power to conduct Environmental Assessments as well.

“(The Boards) by proxy act as advocates for the oil and gas industry. To assume that the Boards can somehow combine these mandates with the task to fairly assess environmental impacts is the height of folly,” said John Davis of the Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia.

Not only does the coalition fear that the potential move will weaken the Environmental Assessment process, it also believes that the fragmentation of such powers among several Boards flies in the face of common sense.

It’s one ocean, one Gulf of St Lawrence, and fragmenting approvals along provincial jurisdictional boundaries simply doesn’t make sense, the group argues.

“Why would the government consider cutting our Gulf of St Lawrence into five provincial pieces to accommodate the offshore oil and gas industry,” asked Greg Egilsson, speaking on behalf of the Gulf Nova Scotia Herring Federation, representing tens of thousands of fishing jobs.

Linda Weilgart is an international expert on the devastating effects of seismic testing on ocean wildlife.

“Almost all marine animals are highly dependent on sound for all their life functions, like mating,  feeding, orienting and detecting hazards. They use their hearing like we use sight, so degrading their environment with noise is like blinding us with light,” said Weilgart, who believes the Boards have mostly ignored these risks.

I interviewed Weilgart in 2013, while working for the Halifax Media Co-op. That’s a long time ago, but sadly little has changed.

Mi’kmaq water protector Dorene Bernard in her closing remarks spoke about the need for government to consult with the Mi’kmaq and honour the treaties. Mi’kmaq leadership has been calling for a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of St Lawrence for several years.

“We call on the government to listen to their call for a moratorium, for procedural fairness and consultation with the people in our territory for free, prior and informed consent. We call on the government to embrace the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Bernard said.

“We need no more apologies, we need action,” said Bernard.

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