Response of Honourable Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to Open Letter Requesting Stop to Oil and Gas Exploration in Gulf of St. Lawrence

Publication Date: 
October 1, 2010

Dear Ms. Gorman:

Thank you for your correspondence of September 14 and 16, 2010, regarding the Gulf of St. Lawrence oil and gas regulatory regime.

I share your views regarding the importance of the Gulf of St. Lawrence marine ecosystem and the value it holds for the many communities that have relied upon it for generations.  Like many Canadians, I have been deeply concerned by the accident that has taken place in the Gulf of Mexico and would not want to see a similar accident take place in Canada's marine waters.

Domestically, Canada has a strong regulatory regime overseeing all offshore oil and gas activities occurring in federal or jointly shared waters.  This regime is specifically aimed at ensuring high standards for safety, environmental protection and sound management of petroleum resources.

Although Fisheries and Oceans Canada plays a significant scientific and regulatory role in the overall management of Canada's oceans, regulatory decisions on whether or not to grant exploratory and development licences for offshore petroleum resources in the Gulf of St. Lawrence lie entirely with the National Energy Board (NEB) and the
Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB).  The latter body, which covers the most eastern portion of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, including the location of the Old Harry oil and gas prospect, falls under the authority of the federal Minister of Natural Resources Canada and the Minister of Natural Resources for Newfoundland and Labrador.

By law, both the NEB and the CNLOPB are responsible for assessing safety and environmental impacts of all proposed petroleum activities before providing authorizations for specific activities.  Prior to opening areas for exploration, strategic environmental assessments are completed, including the identification of sensitive areas that will not be offered for exploration.  Furthermore, any company wanting to drill an exploratory well must have an emergency response plan and a contingency plan approved by the appropriate regulatory board before drilling.  These drilling applications must be evaluated for completeness and compliance with the Canada Oil and Gas Drilling and Production Regulations by the Boards before they can be approved.

It is my understanding that Corridor Resources Incorporated is currently proposing to conduct a geo-hazard survey for its licence area on the Newfoundland and Labrador side of the Old Harry site, and that an application to drill an exploratory well has not been received by the CNLOPB.  Any drilling application would have to be preceeded by an environmental assessment of the proposed exploration activities.

As you may be aware, earlier this decade, DFO, in collaboration with world-leading research scientists, took leadership in developing a comprehensive regime for the management of seismic exploration activities in Canada's marine waters.  This effort led to the development of a comprehensive Code of Practice for the management of seismic activities, which is now followed by all oil and gas management authorities across Canada including the CNLOPB.

While I am confident in the robustness of the management regime in place, the Government of Canada remains sensitive to the potential impacts that a petroleum accident could have on Canada's marine waters.  Accordingly, in light of the accident in the Gulf of Mexico, this past summer both the NEB and the CNLOPB announced reviews of their operational procedures and additional oversight requirements for exploration activities occurring in Canada's marine waters.  DFO, working in collaboration with other levels of government and local stakeholders, has likewise undertaken efforts to identify and elaborate on ecologically and biologically significant areas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence where additional caution needs to be taken by the petroleum industry and other marine users.

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill was indeed a tragic and unprecedented event. While the true impact of this spill will not be known for many years, the Government of Canada will continue to assist the United States as well as identify and apply lessons learned from this unfortunate event to the management of our marine waters.

Thank you for taking the time to write about this important issue.


Original signed by

Gail Shea, P.C., M.P.

Ministerial Correspondence Control Unit / Unité de contrôle de la correspondance ministérielle
Fisheries and Oceans Canada / Pêches et Océans Canada
200 rue Kent Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0E6
Telephone/Téléphone: 613-992-3474
Facsimile/Télécopieur: 613-990-7292
Government of Canada / Gouvernement du Canada

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