Excerpted from the Halifax Herald
Friday, November 9, 2001
Fisheries committee calls for exploration ban
Ottawa urged to consider oil, gas moratorium off Cape Breton coast
By Brian Underhill / Ottawa Bureau
Ottawa - The federal fisheries committee is urging the government to consider an oil and gas exploration moratorium in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence off the west coast of Cape Breton.
One of the most serious issues that came to light during the review of the Oceans Act concerns the way in which oil and gas exploration licences have been granted off the coast of Cape Breton, the Commons committee said in a report tabled this week.
The committee feels that it may be prudent to consider placing this region under an oil and gas exploration moratorium similar to that on the Georges Bank until the fishermen and their communities can be assured that the risks . . . are minimal.
Mary Gorman, of the Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition, applauded the report and called on Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal to do his job and protect the fishery.
She was critical of Mr. Dhaliwal for playing an advisory role on this issue while the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board is calling the shots.
Where is the Fisheries Act, where is the habitat protection, she said Thursday, noting inshore fishermen are heavily regulated in the name of conservation.
The coalition was pleased the committee recognized the shallow waters of the gulf - virtually landlocked and icebound in winter - are especially vulnerable to contamination, she said.
The fisheries committee expressed concerns about the effect of oil and gas seismic testing on many species and the impact of long-term discharge of effluent from exploration.
It also called on Ottawa to consider a full environmental assessment on potential oil and gas exploration in the gulf.
The governments of Nova Scotia and Canada have ordered the petroleum board to conduct a public review of potential exploration and drilling activities within exploration licences located in the Sidney Bight area off Cape Breton.
The fisheries committee supports the public review, but also expressed concerns over the review commissions mandate and makeup. It recommends a qualified representative of the fishing community be appointed.
But Natural Resources Minister Ralph Goodale said the review process addresses a number of concerns brought forward by the fisheries committee report.
There is a review process that is very well-established that makes sure that environmental and other considerations are properly taken into account and satisfied in advance before a development proceeds, he said.
Fisheries committee chairman Wayne Easter said Thursday the protection of the fishing industry must take precedence.
There basically should be a moratorium in place on oil and gas development in that area until all the parameters are looked at, he said.
New Democrat Peter Stoffer, also a member of the committee, issued a minority report saying the process of granting licences first, then conducting environmental assessments, is flawed.
You should turn that around, he said Thursday. We are talking about a fragile environment . . . and dont forget economic activity around the fisheries has been there for over 400 years.
The public review commission is expected to hold public meetings in January and issue a report by the end of March.