Island groups react to report on offshore drilling preparedness
By Eric McCarthy
ALBERTON -- An Auditor General’s report released this week on the Environment and Sustainable Development adds to the concerns the Prince Edward Island Watershed Alliance held all along about offshore oil drilling activities in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, said Shawn Hill, the group’s executive director.
“It basically underpins our case entirely,” Hill said of the report. Last month the Watershed Alliance forwarded a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper outlining its concerns about oil and gas exploration in the Gulf. “Our province is dependent on marine resources that will be – perhaps irreversibly – compromised by the demonstrated, accidental outcomes of intrinsically dangerous, offshore petroleum development,” the Alliance stressed in its letter to the Prime Minister.
The report raises several concerns about the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board’s preparedness for monitoring offshore activity and in its ability to manage and deal with mishaps.
One of the report’s glaring findings is that financial liability for oil companies is capped at $30 million. By comparison, damages from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have been estimated in the $40 billion range, 333 times as much.
“We are really concerned,” Hill commented. “There hasn’t been a lot of work in the Gulf and, with the way the energy file is going across the country and the way the legislative framework has been altered with federal changes, we were just wondering what could happen.“
Although most of the discussion on offshore drilling is between Newfoundland and Quebec, Hill said the impacts of anything going wrong would be far-reaching. “All Islanders, and everybody in the Maritimes, have a lot of exposure on this. It’s that simple,” he stressed. “The coastal resource, that’s key for our tourism, key for our fisheries, key for our livelihoods everywhere, and if that is impacted, what’s left? That’s the precautionary principal.”
The managing director of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association, Ian MacPherson said his organization has many concerns and feels the best approach would be for no offshore drilling to occur at all.
“Certainly, any type of spill would have devastating results for the whole Gulf region, just the way the currents go,” MacPherson stated. He pointed out the St. Lawrence has a very slow flushing rate, as it takes an entire year for water form the Gulf to empty out. That could mean the affects of an oil spill could linger a long time. There are also questions, he said, of what ice would do to a cleanup operation.
MacPherson added that the Gulf of St. Lawrence has greater biodiversity than the Gulf of Mexico. A spill, he said, would have a significant impact on the entire region.
The Auditor General report has raised red flags throughout the region.
The St. Lawrence Coalition is calling for a moratorium on exploration and exploitation of oil and gas across the Gulf and the federal New Democrats are concerned with what it calls a lack of both coordinate response plans and clarity on roles and responsibilities.