SOUTHWESTERN NS – Changes in federal legislation, two industrial accidents at offshore drilling sites within the last two years and pending seismic activity near Georges Bank and the North Atlantic right whale critical habitat in Roseway Basin are among the reasons fishermen should be sitting up and taking notice of what’s happening in Nova Scotia’s offshore when it comes to oil and gas exploration.
This message was delivered during the SWNS Lobster Forum in Yarmouth on Sept. 19 by Marilyn Keddy, Chair of the South Shore Chapter of the Council of Canadians, and John Davis, director of the Clean Action Ocean Committee (COAC).
The Council of Canadians, one of the largest social activist organizations in the country, has taken on the Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia “as a national campaign,” said Keddy. An online petition calling for BP Canada to stop drilling exploratory wells in the Scotian Basin and calling for changes to the federal government’s Bill C-69, which will give offshore petroleum boards more say around environmental assessments, has more than 60,000 signatures.
“So, when someone says to you no one cares about this issue, it’s not true. People do care,” Keddy told fishermen. My hope is to be able to work closely with your organizations around eliminating the risks associated around offshore drilling. It’s too late to save the fishery after a blow out.”
Keddy said oil and gas exploration is being conducted on the Scotian Shelf “in conditions where there is no global precedence” in waters “twice as deep as in the Gulf of Mexico with tide and weather conditions far fiercer.”
“The lack of industry experience requires additional regulatory requirements, not vague and relaxed regulatory requirements,” Keddy said. “The Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia does not think it is worth the risk to our sustainable fishery, coastal communities and climate. Are you willing to take that risk with your livelihood?”
“We know accidents happen all the time particularly in the exploratory stage. In 2016 when Shell was drilling on the Scotian Shelf they dropped two kilometer of pipe that landed only 12 meters from the well head just narrowly avoiding disaster,” she said. “That pipe lays there today.”
Then there is this year’s incident, when BP Canada Energy Group ULC (BP Canada), made an unauthorized discharge of 136 cubic metres of synthetic based drilling mud just a month into drilling the first of as many as seven exploratory wells in the Scotian Basin. “A loose connection in the mud booster line” was determined to be the cause, said the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB).
The fix: replacing the section of the mud booster line where the leak occurred and pressure testing the assembled components, conducting inspections of all similar connections in the mud booster line, along with those in other auxiliary piping systems that are affixed to the riser, and implementing a pressure system alarm of the mud booster line that will be monitored at all times on board the West Aquarius drilling unit as well as at the BP Global Well Monitoring Centre in Houston, according to the CNSOPB.
“A pressure gauge on the line. That’s the level of regulatory oversight we have out there,” said John Davis, COAC director. “It makes me and others think and wonder what other inadequate equipment and procedures are in use on that rig out there. We work in a highly regulated industry and we make it work and have a sustainable fishery because we make it work, and the oil and gas industry are out there because of the power of the lobby they have, and they are working with minimum regulatory oversight.”
Davis brought up a number of issues including three federal bills that “have huge implications for everyone in this room.” Bill C-22, which received Royal Assent in 2017, gives oil companies, he said, “the right to spray chemical dispersants into the water in the event of an oil spill and pretend what they are doing is cleaning up.”
“They can do it on or near your fishing grounds. Dispersants increase toxicity of the oil spill and amplify the damage to lobster stocks and other species. All they are doing is driving the oil off the surface and down into the water column where it becomes more dangerous to lobster and the other living species,” he said. “Before Bill C-22 it was against the law by DFO regulations to put those chemicals in the water, it was against Coast Guard regulations, Transport Canada regulations, even against the Migratory Bird Act.”
Bill C-55 deals with Marine Protected Areas (MPA). Davis said it calls for “increased the penalties and fines for any fishing boat caught in an MPA while at the same time it provides compensation to any oil company out there denied access for drilling within that MPA, so the oil industry gets compensation and you get more regulations and higher fines.”
Bill C-69, which is still at the committee level for assessment, assures the CSNSOPB will be a major force overseeing environmental assessments on the Scotian Shelf, said Davis and it will be “in the driver’s seat” when determining what’s an “acceptable risk” for our fishery.
Davis also sounded the alarm bells about pending seismic activity in Exploration Licences 2435 and 2436, which are near Georges Bank and Roseway Basin The two parcels were leased to Statoil Canada by the CNSOPB in 2015 and cover areas of 3677 square kilometres and 2842 square km respectively. The application to conduct seismic activity by Statoil (now called Equinor said Davis) is still pending final approval from the CNSOPB.
“We have to make some comment about this,” said Davis, citing a report released by Dalhousie University in 2017 – The Impact of Ocean Noise Pollution on Fish and Invertebrates. Davis said the study states just about lobsters that “noise impacts on development include body malformations, higher egg or immature mortality, developmental delays, delays in metamorphosing and settling and slower growth rates.”
“It gets even worse,” said Davis citing a report from DFO that states the “regulations on seismic impacts is inadequate… the majority of the preventive measures are aimed at reducing impacts in close range of the airgun array but do not adequately address impacts that may occur at greater ranges from the source outside the safety zone.”
“We have to take action and we have to work together,” said Davis. “Above and beyond everything else you have to accomplish and all the other work you have to do, you have to protect yourself from poor regulation, poor bureaucratic oversight and against the greed of the oil and gas industry. Nobody is going to do it for us.”
Intervening in the licensing process for the Norwegian oil company Equinor’s seismic application, engaging the Norwegian government and inform them of fisheries opposition and request they drop those leases, lobbying the federal government to ensure that oil and gas exploration is excluded from any and all MPAs and continuing efforts to understand the compensation process for offshore oil spills are among the issues that need to be tackled, said Davis, calling the compensation process “frightening.”
“Our ability to claim compensation is extremely limited,” he said. “We have to make a position known immediately.”
The Offshore Alliance – a coalition of fisher, social justice and environmental organizations, communities and individuals who have concerns with offshore drilling in Nova Scotia – have called for a moratorium on offshore drilling pending a full federal/provincial public inquiry. The Alliance argues that although Nova Scotia created an independent panel on fracking onshore, it has never had a parallel study of oil exploration and drilling offshore where much more is at stake. Davis said the Offshore Alliance is requesting all municipal units support the call for a moratorium on drilling and for a full public inquiry on the risks of offshore oil and gas development on the Scotian Shelf.