Late on Monday, I got the terrible news that we had lost our court case to stop the rapid roll out of oil and gas drilling off Newfoundland.
It's a tough loss, as this case was one of our last chances to question a deeply flawed assessment and deregulation that the Newfoundland and Labrador and Canadian governments stealthily set in motion in the new Impact Assessment Act, passed in 2019. This was an Act that the government claimed would finally integrate climate change into impact assessment decision-making, instead it effectively does the opposite for offshore oil and gas.
At stake is no less than our global climate commitments: as we know that the IPCC and the UN Environmental Program have both released studies showing the new oil and gas development is inconsistent with a safe climate. We know that promoting the rapid roll-out of oil on our East Coast will drive catastrophes and tragic losses such as the flooding on our West Coast this fall, not to mention the continued coastal erosion and weather changes that impact the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
If this decision stands, new exploratory drilling will proceed without notice to the public or further independent scrutiny in an area off Newfoundland the size of Alberta. Paving the way for up to 77 exploratory wells drilled in the area covered by the assessment, which will blow Newfoundland and Labrador's chances of achieving its climate targets. If any of these wells goes to production, oil and gas would be produced for decades.
While fueling the climate emergency, drilling also threatens ocean life already threatened by the impacts of climate change. Let's not forget that there is no credible plan to deal with a spill, much less a blowout in Newfoundland's offshore. In case of such a catastrophe, oil could spill for weeks or more.
Also of concern is that the drilling is usually preceded by seismic blasting, which makes it hard for marine mammals to navigate an already rapidly changing ocean. We know that researchers off Newfoundland who were listening for whales in 2020 could hear seismic blasting non-stop: "All you can hear — 24 hours a day, for months on end, every 10 seconds — is the boom of a seismic array going off".
These deafening noises which travel thousands of kilometers underwater make it hard for whales - who use sound as we use light to navigate to find food, mates, and nurse their young. For a species like the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, and new mothers like Snow Cone (a right whale who, despite all odds, gave birth after becoming entangled and is still dragging fishing gear), more stress is the very last thing they and their precious babies need.
Losing a case like this is hard, because I fear the damage drilling could unleash, I fear for whales like Snow Cone who will bear the brunt of our government’s reckless drive to drill for more oil. And because I know you've joined with me to fight against oil drilling for so long: I am so very sorry to disappoint you with this news.
But when leaders and governments actively manipulate processes and laws to deter climate action and will not protect the diversity in our oceans, you really have no choice to fight back every way we can, even if you might lose.
And we won’t quit. Along with our friends at Ecology Action Centre and WWF-Canada, we are working with our legal team at Ecojustice on next steps with regard to the case and to stop new oil drilling off Canada’s East Coast.
But in the meantime, we need you to help to keep up this fight. The courts have failed us this time around, but our leaders need to continue to hear - again and again (if not every 10 seconds !) - that new offshore drilling cannot be allowed - or, even worse, actively encouraged by governments that claim to be climate leaders.
We will be in touch with more actions, but for now please take a moment to share the news on social media about what this court has decided, so that people know our government is trying to avoid action on climate change and to protect marine life.
National Program Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation