Skip to content

Is offshore drilling becoming off limits?

In Canada and the U.S., Thursday was a big day of big setbacks for Big Oil’s offshore drilling plans.

And it’s no wonder. Offshore drilling poses serious risks to marine ecosystems, the climate, tourism, fisheries, and coastal communities, with the rewards going to large corporations like BP.


In the U.S., opposition to offshore drilling is growing beyond traditional opponents. As a result, a Trump official confirmed on Thursday that the expansion of seismic testing and drilling for fossil fuels are now on hold there indefinitely.

The Digital Journal reports that, “Henry McMaster, South Carolina’s Republican Governor, and ardent Trump supporter is more aligned with the opposition… “we will continue our efforts to protect our pristine coastline and invaluable tourism industry from the destructive threats of seismic testing and offshore drilling,” he said.”

“[U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz], one of Florida’s most prominent liberal members of Congress is also joined by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican and one of the state’s most prominent conservatives and a strong ally of President Donald Trump,” according to the Digital Journal. “So it looks like it is a bipartisan movement against offshore drilling.”


On the same day in Canada, the federal government announced that it is banning offshore drilling in protected areas. The Canadian Press story puts it this way: “The oil and gas industry has worn out its welcome in Canadian marine conservation areas.”

This announcement follows the Council of Canadians, the Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia (CPONS), and other organizations calling for a halt to offshore drilling in protected areas, as well as Senate hearings on Bill C-69 where fishers organizations highlighted concerns that marine protected areas (MPAs) did not apply to the oil and gas industry.

The federal government’s announcement Thursday that it is banning offshore drilling in MPAs is a positive development. But questions remain about whether the ban actually applies to current offshore drilling projects. Media reports indicate that “the prohibition won’t automatically apply to activities in fisheries conservation areas designated as marine refuges.”

This highlights the need for a full, independent public inquiry on offshore drilling.

As a part of our campaign to stop drilling offshore we have been drawing particular attention to stopping it in MPAs and marine refuge areas.

The CBC reports, “The decision, effective Thursday, also bans ocean mining and ocean dumping in MPAs, which are being created to help meet an international commitment to protect 10 per cent of Canada’s ocean and coastal areas by 2020.” CBC also notes that “Canada has reached 8.2 per cent of the conservation target… Half of the conservation areas set aside so far — 4.5 per cent — are being preserved through marine refuges.”

This ban takes place in the context of growing opposition, including our petition that already has over 60,000 signatures, with more and more people recognizing that offshore drilling is not worth the risk.

As our petition points out, “More offshore drilling and exploration is entirely inconsistent with the need to rapidly wind down the fossil fueled economy and move toward a just and sustainable future.”


The Canadian Press reports that “The changes apply recommendations made last fall by a panel the government asked to provide advice on the best way to improve standards in marine protected areas. The ban on industrial activities brings Canada up to international standards recommended by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.”

“The bans apply only to marine protected areas, which are specific areas within bodies of water that are granted protected status by federal, provincial or territorial governments,” according to the Canadian Press. “Until now, activities like oil and gas exploration and exploitation were only banned in these areas on a case-by-case basis.”

“Marine refuges, which are more numerous areas where governments impose fisheries closures often to protect just a single species, will still allow oil and gas operations,” reports the Canadian Press. “The ones that do will not be counted towards Canada’s commitment to protect 10 per cent of the country’s marine and coastal areas by 2020… Canada had hit nearly eight per cent by the end of 2018, but more than half of that amount is marine refuges. It’s not clear yet what effect discounting refuges that are still open to oil and gas work will have on the total.”

Existing regulations have allowed for oil and gas development in marine refuge areas offshore Newfoundland and Labrador and near Marine Protected Areas offshore Nova Scotia to protect important spawning grounds, where fishing isn’t allowed.

The latest call for bids from the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board includes these areas as well as surrounding Sable Island National Park and under a fragile sand dune there.

Responding to the federal government’s announcement, Marilyn Keddy with CPONS put it simply: “A ban on offshore drilling in protected areas needs to actually ban offshore drilling in protected areas. The federal government announcement banning industrial activities in MPAs is a great first step, but the ban needs to include marine refuge areas.”


The Council and CPONS continue to call for a full, independent public inquiry on offshore drilling. A growing list of municipalities are supporting this demand. You can take action by downloading, signing, and sending this postcard to the Prime Minister.

If you’re in Nova Scotia, join the South Shore Chapter of the Council of Canadians for a public talk in Mahone Bay on May 5 on Just How Protected are Marine Protected Areas, featuring Professor Anna Metaxas of Dalhousie University’s Oceanography Department.