Photo: Why we must oppose exploration and drilling in the Saint-Lawrence

Via flickr: Bobcatnorth

The Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River are vital to Canada's coastal communities. The economic and socio-cultural activities within the regions surrounding the St. Lawrence, such as fishing and tourism, represent nearly two-thirds of Canada's GDP related to all maritime activities, according to an analysis from the DFO.

As well as having unique and diverse ecosystems, the Gulf of St. Lawrence also has a rich geological makeup. Sedimentary basins are formed through a complex chain of geological events which can lead to the presence of hydrocarbon deposits — the chemical name given to organic compounds that include natural oil and gas. Quebec's Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement reports that two such sedimentary basins have been identified in the Gulf of St. Lawrence: the Anticosti basin and the Magdalen Islands basin.

The most attractive area for oil development is the Magdalen Islands basin, inside the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence and the Saint-Lawrence estuary, since its formations are particularly favourable to hydrocarbon deposits. Prospecting for oil and gas has already led to the discovery of a geological structure dubbed "Old Harry". This deposit, located on the Quebec-Newfoundland border about 80 km north-west from the Magdalen Islands, may contain recoverable reserves of up to two billion barrels of oil, representing the oil and gas consumption needs of Quebec for up to 20 years.

Since hydrocarbon prospecting and extraction are known threats to biodiversity, as well as tourism and commercial fishing, the government of Quebec in 1998 put a moratorium in place to protect both ecosystems and local socio-economic activities. The moratorium is a provisional suspension of all operating licenses requests and projects, and precludes any oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence and in the Saint-Lawrence estuary.

In fall 2010, following its first examination of the scope and nature of potential environmental and socio-economic impacts stemming from projects, programs, or policies — called the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) — the Quebec government announced a complete ban on hydrocarbon prospecting and extraction in the Saint-Lawrence estuary. Since there are virtually no natural boundaries between the estuary and the gulf, it is essential to involve all the relevant provinces in taking action to protect this area from the impacts of oil development.

According to the current legislative processes in place, the boundaries of the five gulf provinces (Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) are established by artificial legal borders in order to allow offshore hydrocarbon development. This means that these different jurisdictions issue hydrocarbon prospecting and operating licenses independently from one another.

This somewhat paradoxical situation is even more worrisome in light of the absence of any moratorium over Newfoundland's waters, and further still in light of the license granted by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board to Corridor Resources Inc. to develop the Newfoundland portion of the Old Harry deposit. This was further pushed forward on October 4, 2010 when the C NLOPB issued a prospecting license to Corridor and thus opened the door to hydrocarbon development in the entire gulf.

This prospecting license will allow Corridor to undertake a seismic survey — an assessment by sonic waves sent into various layers of subterranean materian — of the "Old Harry" deposit in order to determine the best location for the first borehole. After the seismic survey, prospect drilling will take place (by 2012) to confirm the presence of hydrocarbons. If hydrocarbons are found, boreholes will then be drilled in order to extract oil from the sea floor.

The harmful impacts of hydrocarbon prospecting (seismic surveys) and development (drilling) are real and may have devastating repercussions not only on the ecosystems in the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence, but also on the socio-cultural activities of the Atlantic provinces. Therefore, the David Suzuki Foundation recommends the following measures to the Federal and provincial governments:

  1. Maintain the Quebec moratorium and demand a moratorium for the entire Gulf of Saint-Lawrence;
  2. In light of the lack of consultation between provinces on hydrocarbon prospecting projects, specifically in the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence, to call for a concerted and integrated approach vital to the management of this important ecosystem.

Help prevent a spill in the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence by sending a letter to the government.

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