April 3, 2002
The report of the Public Review Commission on oil and gas exploration activities on the in-shore coastal areas of Cape Breton Island was publicly released today.
Commissioner McNeil stated that it was not within her mandate to make recommendations about whether or not the activities should be allowed to proceed. However, in setting out the facts as she understands them based on the public review, it would not be possible for a Minister to determine the oil and gas activities can proceed without a great deal further work to resolve scientific uncertainties and resolve significant data gaps.
The Commissioner's report did not capture all of the arguments. There is no reference to health risks, precious little to tourism values, none to the toxic contaminants of water-based drilling muds, and very brief reference to the threats to whales from seismic and to leatherback turtles from exploration activity. Nevertheless, the report makes recommendations premised on the validity of concerns about the potential negative impact on marine life.
Specifically, the Commissioner recommended that the government obtained revised, updated proposals from Hunt and Corridor (an implicit rejection of the work they tabled at the hearings) with reference to the uncertainties, that CNSOPB (Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board) pay particular attention to the proximity of significant commercial species and those stocks in a state of serious depletion, as well as the presence of munitions dumps. She recommended that the Department of National Defence be requested by CNSOPB to pull together a full assessment of the contents of munitions dumps within the licence area. In any further impact assessment, she recommended that Sydney Bight and the southern Gulf be treated as one ecosystem.
The Commissioner's two key recommendations were that in view of the many valid concerns raised at the Hearings about uncertainty regarding the effects of the proposed regulatory activities; and, in view of the DFO references in it Habitat Status Report to many knowledge gaps with respect to the nature of the marine environment, particularly about commercial fish and shellfish in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence; and in view of the need to examine the science and experience that is at the root of these uncertainties, I recommend that the necessary scientific , technical, and experiential resources be convened to assess the existing base of knowledge in relation to the DFO review, the Hunt and Corridor updated proposals and the Public Review Commissions Findings
I recommend that the Ministers and CNSOPB broaden the consultative system to apply to the next stage of the decision-making process for the three License Areas, to include a cross-section of interests for the purpose of gaining advice about whether or not the proposed activities should proceed, and the specific measures to be taken in the event their decision is to proceed with exploration and drilling activities. The system proposed here would include terms of reference for a working group comprised of not more than nine persons, each of whom participated in the Public Review.
The Commissioner was very detailed about the 9 person working group, setting out there should be one person each from the federal, provincial and municipal governments, one from First Nations governments, two from fisheries groups, and one each from environmental, business and trade union groups. These respective interests would be invited to name their representatives.