On January 15th, the Old Harry licence in the Gulf of St. Lawrence expired. The licence issued at Old Harry - the sailor’s name for the devil - was issued by the Canada Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board in 2008. We’ve been fighting it ever since, and continue to fight the illegal extension of the lease in court. It never should have been issued in the first place.
Sierra Club has fought oil projects in the Gulf for over two decades. Organizations, scientists, Indigenous leaders, and coastal communities have rallied to stop seismic and drilling in the Gulf from proceeding. In fact, in spite of concerns expressed by marine scientists, seismic blasting was allowed to go ahead in 2010 while endangered blue whales were migrating in the Gulf.
So much concern was raised regarding seismic testing and drilling in the Gulf that then Environment Minister Peter Kent ordered further scrutiny in 2011. This assessment was far from satisfactory, and in no way encapsulated the threats represented by oil drilling to ocean life in the Gulf, and to the surrounding coastal communities.
Incredibly, after nine long years of fighting to stop oil drilling at Old Harry, in 2017 the offshore board extended the licence beyond its nine-year term. We went to court to challenge this extension, since under the Accords Act, licences like the one at Old Harry have a nine-year term limit.
We are still waiting to hear from our courts regarding this case, which centres on the limits of the powers of the offshore board - a vital question for the future of the Gulf, now made more urgent since Newfoundland and Labrador plan to double their offshore oil development in the next ten years - the same timeline in which we need to shift our economies and society away from relying on fossil fuels.
In the face of unrelenting opposition, the Old Harry Licence has expired. While we await a court decision on the scope of the Board’s powers, which will have significant implications going forward, this is a win on the water – for now. But we need more to truly protect the Gulf.
Please join us in seizing the opportunity offered us by this reprieve. Write to Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to call for a full moratorium on oil and gas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Prime Minister will be copied on your letter.
Gretchen Fitzgerald - National Program Director