Policy Asks for IMPAC5 – Vancouver, BC

Simon L'Allier, Sierra Club Canada Marine Mammal Coordinator, at a table at IMPAC5 in Vancouver. IMPAC5 Policy Vancouver BC.For Immediate Release: February 7, 2023

Oil and Gas Exploration and Drilling

Last year, Canada approved the 1 billion barrel Bay du Nord project and BP recently announced plans to explore for a potential 5 billion more barrels this spring at a location known as Cape Freels off Newfoundland which overlaps with the Northeast Newfoundland Marine Refuge [1]. Allowing new oil and gas runs contrary to commitments to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity and stop runaway climate change.

In Atlantic Canada, there are no blanket restrictions for oil and gas licences in areas Canada designates as marine refuges. In 2017, Canadians pushed back vigorously against a proposal to allow oil and gas exploration and production in the Laurentian Channel MPA. In 2019, the federal government committed to new standards for marine protected areas that would  ban oil and gas activities in marine protected areas. However existing parks and other areas Canada is claiming to protect (like marine refuges) or to manage sustainably (like Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas)  still allow seismic blasting and oil drilling.

In the fall of 2022, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board issued a call for bids for new oil drilling in and around Sable Island National Park Reserve. If oil companies respond to this call for bids, oil and gas exploration could be allowed on Sable Island itself, and drilling could occur 1 nautical mile off its shores, and even under the island itself.

For decades, Sierra Club and many others have fought oil and gas exploration and drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This semi-enclosed sea is the northern home of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and other endangered whales, is dominated by a patchwork of ten Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area (EBSA)  and includes three MPAs and 11 marine refuges. In spite of the fact that seismic and oil drilling would threaten the entire Gulf, there still remains no formal moratorium on drilling in this ecoregion.

The regional assessment and associated deregulation of offshore exploratory drilling off Eastern Newfoundland includes international waters. A spill from Equinor’s proposed Bay du Nord oil project in the region has the potential to damage ecosystems outside of Canada’s jurisdiction and threatens international fisheries. Canada’s expansion of oil and gas activities into and near international waters sets a terrible precedent, and sets a poor example for biodiversity protection on the high seas.

Targets for massive oil and gas expansion, permissive laws and regulations, and deregulation of the oil and gas industry creates an uneven playing field relative to other industries with regard to conservation. This creates justifiable cynicism about Canada’s real commitment to protection from the fishing industry, which is subjected to restrictions in MPAs and other conservation areas.

We are calling for:

1 – Canada and other countries commit to no new offshore oil and gas exploration and production, in line with international scientific climate science: the West Coast and the Arctic are protected from oil and gas development, the Atlantic Coast deserves the same.

2 – Immediately halt all exploration and drilling in areas “protected”and which Canada includes in its protection targets: this is already a commitment for marine parks established as National Marine Conservation Areas and MPAs, but should be expanded to include all marine refuges, such as Northeast Newfoundland Slope Closure and should be adopted to protect Sable Island National Park Reserve.

3 – Canada to commit to no new oil and gas exploration in international waters, and to seek commitments from other countries to do the same.

4 – We know seismic blasting or a major oil spill in the Gulf of St. Lawrence would damage this entire ecoregion. Indigenous leaders around the GUlf called for a moratorium on oil and gas drilling there in 2014. We are asking that the new framework for Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas includes a moratorium on oil and gas exploration and development in these areas, including the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is made up of a patchwork of protected areas, refuges and ecologically sensitive areas.

North Atlantic Right Whale

The numbers of right whales continues to dwindle in spite of measures taken to protect the species since a large number of deaths were observed in 2017.

Right whale mothers are giving birth to calves later in life, which means the population of whales is even more vulnerable than it was in the past when the species was brought back from the brink.

It is possible we will witness the extinction of this whale; a shameful legacy for two of the richest nations of the world whose coastlines make up the habitat for this whale.

Threats to the whale include: ship strikes, entanglements in fishing gear, ocean noise, and shifts in their food sources due to climate change.

This meeting provides a platform for Canada to step up for right whales through commitments to work with the US across borders to protect the species, and to provide long-term support for research, coordination, and action, and implementation of policies that ensure high levels of protection in areas deemed important for the species’ survival.

We want to see the following three steps taken by Canada to stop the extinction of the North Atlantic right whale:

1 – An advanced commitment to work with the United States across political boundaries at a management and political level to save the species, with a vision of both countries declaring a commitment of no more human-caused right whale deaths. (As Recommended by the IUCN [2])

2 – Increased funding for action, coordination, and research. We are looking for a continued, long-term commitment to support research through the Whales Initiative, increased coordination to protect the species: by re-establishing the Canadian right whale network, and a substantial increase in support for the fishing industry to innovate and adopt whale safe gear quickly (As Recommended by the IUCN [3])

3 – Making the Gulf of St. Lawrence a safer place for right whales by protecting right whale habitat in Gulf of St. Lawrence through non-voluntary speed restrictions for vessels in the Cabot Strait, and other areas where whales are present, and by adopting a time-bound target for adoption of 100% whale safe gear in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This could happen as part of the anticipated announcement of a regulatory framework for Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (the Gulf is the location of 10 ESBAs).


For more information, please contact: media@sierraclub.ca


[1] https://www.nationalobserver.com/2023/01/19/news/bp-dives-canadas-offsho…

[2] “b. reinforcing existing agreements and commitments in these marine zones, regions, and nations, and by establishing new agreements and commitments in the marine zones, regions, and nations that have significant marine mammal conservation issues but have yet to enter into agreements or commitments;”  –  WCC-2020-Rec-126-EN Reinforcing the protection of marine mammals through regional cooperation

[3] “h. urging states and regional fisheries management organizations to establish mitigation measures in order to achieve a substantial reduction in bycatches, the main cause of the non-natural mortality of cetaceans; and

2. URGES the CMS [Convention on Migratory Species] and the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling to support states and other competent authorities (e.g. regional fisheries management organizations) in the implementation of regional agreements and national commitments, ensuring that in the short term this support allows for a significant reduction in the main threats facing marine mammals” – –  WCC-2020-Rec-126-EN Reinforcing the protection of marine mammals through regional cooperation