A Summary By the St. Lawrence Coalition to foster public participation
** Deadline for Public Comments is on September 27th **
CONTENT OF THE FOLLOWING REPORT
What does the report say?
What are some of the gaps?
How to participate in the consultation?
Ideas that can be used when writing of comments to the C-NLOPB
The C-NLOPB (Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board) has undertaken an updating of the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) it completed in 2005 (amended in 2007) in the part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence under its jurisdiction (approx. 17% of the Gulf). The contract was awarded to AMEC, a consulting firm very active in the oil and gas industry.
The SEA is an umbrella environmental assessment (not project-specific) that has the following main objectives:
- Update the bio-physical portrait of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and of the potential impacts of oil and gas activities;
- Inform the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) on the suitability of issuing new offshore exploration licenses in the part of the Gulf under its jurisdiction; and
- Inform the Office of mitigation measures to adopt if permits are eventually issued (measures to minimize environmental impacts).
The C-NLOPB has mandated a 17-person interprovincial working group (from the 5 Gulf provinces) to oversee the completion of the SEA. During the Fall of 2012, public consultation sessions were held in ten localities around the Gulf. In both cases (interprovincial working group and public consultations), the fact that five provinces are involved is an implicit admission, by the Board, of the wide and interprovincial impact that the offshore oil and gas industry could have.
In addition to the public sessions, a total of 81 written submissions were sent in the Fall of 2012 by citizens, environmental groups, municipalities, First Nation communities, fishermen associations, etc. The vast majority of these submissions show major apprehensions concerning the presence of an oil and gas industry in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
A draft SEA report has been released on June 21st, both in English and French versions. The 700-plus pages report, written by AMEC for the C-NLOPB, is now open to public comments. The deadline for this consultation is set for September 27th.
Complete SEA report : http://www.cnlopb.nl.ca/pdfs/wnlsea/wnlseaupdateen.pdf
Summary of the report : http://www.cnlopb.nl.ca/pdfs/wnlsea/wnlseasummen.pdf
2. Identification of Sensitive or Biologically Important Zones
An important part of the report is devoted to identify sensitive or biologically important zones within the Newfoundland part of the Gulf. A careful reading of the report makes one realize that all of the Newfoundland part of the Gulf could be labeled as important or sensitive.
- Huge sectors of importance for marine mammals (sect. 220.127.116.11)
- Sectors unique and essential for cod, redfish, plaice (spawning, juveniles, migration) (sect. 18.104.22.168)
- Unique winter refuges for herring and capelin (sect. 22.214.171.124)
- Important sites for lobster, krill, etc. (sect. 126.96.36.199)
- West Coast Atlas of sensitive zones show that the vast majority of the Newfoundland West Coast could be qualified as sensitive (sect. 188.8.131.52).
Unfortunately, no synthesis map of all the sensitive or biologically important zones is presented in the report. Such a map would have helped us realize that nearly all of the Western Newfoundland coast could be qualified as important or sensitive. Only sectoral maps are presented.
3. Socio-economic Importance of the Gulf
The report elaborates at length on the importance of fishing activities (including First Nations fisheries) in the Newfoundland part of the Gulf. The report states that fishing is occurring almost in the totality of the studied sector and during most of the year. According to AMEC this fact poses a major challenge for the cohabitation of fishing and oil activities in the Gulf.
Even if it is missing many vital details, the report still insists on the importance of tourism activities on the West Coast of Newfoundland. It says that fisheries and tourism could be affected directly by oil and gas activities, but could also be affected by indirect impacts caused by negative perceptions of the public following a spill (sect. 5.4.1).
4. Knowledge Gaps
The draft report confirms that we have a relatively good biophysical knowledge of the Gulf. However, the report insists heavily on great gaps in biological knowledge that still persist, both for commercial or non-commercial species.
Examples of knowledge gaps are numerous. The migration patterns of cod, redfish, salmon, halibut, etc. are badly known, as well as the coral occurring zones. We are missing a lot of data on coastal areas. Knowledge on zooplancton is incomplete, even though it is a crucial group of organisms at the base of the food chain. The establishment of ecologically and biologically significant areas (EBSAs) is based on incomplete data. Knowledge on birds of the Newfoundland West Coast are deficient since last inventories date more than 25 years.
In addition, the draft report says that knowledge of the impacts of seismic surveys on fish (adults, juveniles, larvae) as well as on marine mammals are still poorly known.
The draft report often makes reference to the known impacts of offshore oil and gas operations (seismic surveys, drilling mud, oil spills, etc,.). The report clearly says that impacts on fisheries and tourism can be direct, or indirect because of people’s changing perception following an oil spill.
The report mentions that a major oil spill in the Gulf has the potential to affect a vast territory because, among others, of the dynamic character of currents in the Gulf and the mobility of species. According to the report, coastal areas could be hit (sect. 5.4.1). It should be noted that this is in flagrant contrast with the Old Harry oil spill simulation presented by Corridor Resources according to which the oil slick would be less than 20 km across.
The draft report insists on the presence of ice in the Gulf and on the major problems in the event of a winter oil spill.
The report evaluates the probabilities of offshore spills. The central message is that impacts of a spill would be real and important, but the probability of occurrence is extremely small.
6. Hydraulic Fracturing
Drilling projects on the West Coast of Newfoundland plan on using hydraulic fracturing, in onshore-to-offshore operations, to extract shale oil from underneath the seabed. The offshore portion of the operation falls under the jurisdiction of the C-NLOPB.
While AMEC had not planned on covering that aspect of oil activities, intense concerns and public pressure on the West Coast during the Fall 2012 public consultation forced them to consider the hydraulic fracturing issue.
After a very short and incomplete review of techniques and potential impacts, AMEC concludes that public concerns are sufficiently high in Newfoundland to justify more consultations and discussions before allowing this industry (sect. 5.4.2).
7. Mitigation Measures
The report presents numerous mitigation measures designed to minimize environmental impacts of oil and gas activities, on various species or on fishing activities (sect. 5). These mitigation measures often are simply:
- Respect rules and regulations in place;
- Avoid sensitive zones or crucial periods of the year for fishing or fauna;
- Improve communications with fishermen;
- Implement various technical measures; and
- Ensure preparedness, response procedures, spill prevention and spill containment. No further details are given by AMEC.
It is interesting to read in the AMEC draft report that efficiency of numerous mitigation measures is poorly known (sect. 5.3.5), for example in the case of seismic surveys.
8. Public Consultation Report (Fall 2012)
In Appendix A to the draft SEA report we find a report on public consultations held in the Fall 2012 in 10 localities around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. To these sessions were added meetings with First Nation communities in Gesgapegiag (Mi’gmaqs) and Ekuanitshit (Innus), both communities being in Quebec.
This over 80 pages consultation report lists the commentaries made by citizens as well as by local stakeholders during these sessions. The vast majority of comments, in all provinces including Newfoundland, show strong apprehensions concerning offshore drilling in the Gulf or hydraulic fracturing on the West Coast. In addition, a total of 81 briefs were submitted last fall, briefs which are available on the C-NLOPB web site.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to evaluate to which degree AMEC considered the hundreds of verbal comments or written submissions in the writing of its draft report. It would have been helpful, like it is the usual procedure, to present a table of comments and the way AMEC addressed the issue. Table 2.2 presented by AMEC is much too simplistic to be truly helpful. It is almost impossible to see how individual public comments were integrated in the draft report. In addition, the AMEC report avoids any statement on the evident lack of social acceptability for oil and gas projects in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
9. Absence of « Conclusions and Recommendations » Section in the AMEC Report
Apart from the proposed mitigation measures, the AMEC report does not contain any recommendations or conclusions on, for example, the relevance of issuing new exploration licenses or on sensitive zones to protect. Strangely, AMEC has left blank the « Summary and conclusion » section and the C-NLOPB has inserted a note that almost reads like a legal notice.
It is worrying to learn that recommendations will be known only next Fall, when the final SEA report will be released. Indeed the public will have no opportunity to comment on these recommendations, potentially very important for the future of the Gulf, since no other specific consultation period is planned.
10. How to Participate in the SEA Draft Report Consultation
The complete report as well as the summary are available (English and French) at the following address: http://www.cnlopb.nl.ca/wnlsea.shtml
In addition, all the written briefs submitted in the Fall of 2012 during the Gulf-wide consultation period are available on the same web page.
Deadline to submit comments on the draft report: September 27th 2013.
Comments must be sent to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ideas that can be used when writing of comments to the C-NLOPB
AMEC’s final report will be a tool for the C-NLOPB to evaluate if they should or not go ahead in issuing offshore exploration licenses in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (including the offshore portion of onshore-to-offshore drilling operations) and if so, what should be required mitigation measures. It is thus important to tell the C-NLOPB that:
I. Even if it is weak and incomplete, AMEC’s report still contains enough elements to tell the C-NLOPB that oil and gas activities should not be allowed in Newfoundland’s part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence:
- The draft report shows a complete lack of social acceptability in all five Gulf provinces;
- Newfoundland’s part of the Gulf has many sensitive and unique sectors, vital to the Gulf ecosystem’s health;
- Knowledge gaps are important;
- Fisheries and tourism are very important and their cohabitation with oil and gas activities would be very difficult; and
- The draft report says that the efficiency of proposed mitigation measures is not proven.
II. Notwithstanding the preceding points, AMEC’s report is weak in many aspects and is not adequate to serve as a decision tool for the C-NLOPB:
- Comments and briefs presented by the public in the Fall 2012 were not correctly addressed and integrated in the draft report;
- Impacts and risks of offshore oil and gas activities as well as hydraulic fracturing have been minimized throughout the report;
- Economic importance of fisheries and tourism are greater than shown in the draft report; and
- Mitigation measures proposed by AMEC are weak and intervention capacity in case of oil spill are clearly inadequate.
The St. Lawrence Coalition will make the following recommendations to the C-NLOPB. Do not hesitate to use these recommendations in your own comments!
WHEREAS the Western Newfoundland offshore SEA draft report clearly establishes the following points:
- Biological importance and sensitivity of Newfoundland’s offshore area in the Gulf;
- Importance of fisheries and tourism;
- Huge gaps concerning biological knowledge and impact of oil and gas activities;
- Uncertainties concerning the efficiency of mitigation measures;
- Real and enormous impacts of any oil spill, despite the fact that the draft report minimizes the probabilities of occurrence; and
- Very little social acceptability in all five Gulf provinces.
WHEREAS intervention capacity in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is inadequate as has been shown by the Commissioner to the Environment and Sustainable Development;
WHEREAS the liability limit for oil companies is still limited at $30 million dollars (this limit could be increased to $1 billion according to minister Oliver, an amount which remains small compared to potential costs of a major spill – costs which surpass $42 billions in the Gulf of Mexico);
WHEREAS any major spill could negatively affect all five Gulf provinces;
WHEREAS an integrated environmental review of oil activities in the complete Gulf of St. Lawrence has still not been performed;
The St. Lawrence Coalition recommends to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board:
- To defer the issuing of any new exploration licenses in the Newfoundland offshore area;
- To cancel the call for bids issued on May 16th 2013 for four parcels in the Newfoundland offshore area;
- To refrain from giving authorizations to projects currently submitted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, including Corridor Resources’ Old Harry project or Shoal Point Energy and Black Spruce Exploration’s Western Newfoundland drilling program; and
- To submit to public scrutiny the recommendations and conclusions of the final SEA report.
St Lawrence Coalition, http://www.coalitionsaintlaurent.ca/