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Offshore drilling not part of our future

(Marion Moore, South Shore chapter and Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia organizer holding the publised op-ed)

This op-ed was published in the LightHouse Now, a paper based in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. The oped comes a week before a series of events including a rally, two public panels and a flotilla the Council of Canadians is organizing in response to an industry energy conference. Our message? Offshore drilling is part of our past, not our future. 

There is no place on earth quite like Nova Scotia. I lived here as a young child and spent many summers exploring its natural wonders, so you can say I’m a bit biased. Vibrant seaside communities like Lunenburg and Mahone Bay, magnificent rocky shorelines dotted with iconic lighthouses, world-renowned seafood from sustainable family fisheries and some of the finest people you’ll ever meet.

When I heard that BP was given the green light to drill offshore Nova Scotia, I was alarmed.

If the name BP rings a bell, it should. It’s the corporation responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster – the largest marine oil spill in history – that killed 11 people, had an enormous impact on bird and marine life, and devastated the lives of many residents along the Gulf of Mexico.

At this very moment, BP is drilling just 50 km off of Sable Island National Park Reserve, with plans to drill six more exploratory wells at very deep depths.

Sixty-one days after the start of drilling, BP spilled 136,000 litres of synthetic drilling mud. While the investigation by the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) is ongoing, the board’s initial assessment chalked the spill up to “mechanical failure.”

This does not inspire trust.

We have good reason to believe a major blowout is far more likely than what BP predicts. After reviewing BP’s application to drill, Dr. Robert Bea, an engineer with forty-eight years of experience who investigated the BP Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez oil spills, concluded BP failed to properly assess, document, and validate the risk of its drilling offshore Nova Scotia.

Among his other concerns, Dr. Bea highlights BP’s failure to fully factor in how treacherous conditions in the North Atlantic would impede the containment of an oil spill. This warning is echoed by voices such as the Clean Ocean Action Committee, which represents some 9,000 Nova Scotians who make a living in fisheries, and who know these waters well.

Dr. Bea described feeling ‘déjà vu,’ comparing BP’s Nova Scotia plans with their plans to drill offshore Australia. After the Australian government implemented further safety measures, on the good advice of Dr. Bea and other experts, BP withdrew their proposal to drill.

One of these safety measures was having a capping stack nearby, an important piece of equipment used to cap an underwater well leaking oil into the ocean.

Since the Gulf of Mexico spill, Alaska, the UK, and Norway have made it a requirement that a capping stack be available within twenty-four hours. The Canadian government approved BP to drill offshore Nova Scotia with a plan to ship a capping stack from Norway taking twelve to nineteen days, and critics say it may take longer.

A major oil spill would put good, sustainable jobs at risk.

In 2016, 17,538 Nova Scotians were employed in fishing-related industries, and fish products are climbing to $2 billion in total annual export value. Tourism has blossomed into an over $2 billion industry.

The risks posed to industries like these are why the attorney generals from twelve neighbouring Atlantic coastal states penned a scathing letter to President Trump, who wants open up their coast to offshore drilling, denouncing the ‘severe’ and ‘unacceptable threat’ offshore drilling presents.

Similar opposition is building here.

The Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia (CPONS) is working with the Council of Canadians and local groups to raise awareness of the risks of offshore drilling. They are calling for an independent joint federal-provincial public inquiry into the socio-economic, environmental, and health effects of oil and gas exploration offshore Nova Scotia.

While public hearings were requested prior to the BP’s approval, none were held. Indigenous activists argue the government also failed to fulfill its obligation under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to obtain their Free, Prior, and Informed Consent.

The Towns of Shelburne, Mahone Bay, and Lunenburg have already sent letters to the Premier and federal representatives, raising concerns.

Drilling offshore Nova Scotia also brings up the broader question of what direction we, as a society, are going in. Do we want to expand fossil fuel production when we are witnessing the dramatic impacts of a changing climate in Canada, and around the world?

It is time to recognize that the fossil fuel industry is ‘big enough.’ We need a plan to meet Paris Climate Agreement targets that support workers and communities dependent on fossil fuel production and embrace the vast potential that exists in green jobs in energy efficiency, renewable energy, public transit, and sustainable agriculture.

Canada’s East Coast energy future is the subject of a major conference next week hosted by the Maritime Energy Association. Panels are featuring government and Indigenous voices alongside industry, both fossil fuel and sustainable energy. BP is a ‘silver sponsor’ of the two-day conference.

I’m joining CPONS and the Council of Canadians in Halifax and Mahone Bay for two public panels and a rally to send a clear message that offshore drilling is part of our past, not our future. The local risks are simply too great, and our collective stake in responding to climate change is too urgent. I hope you will join me.

I will be speaking at the Mahone Bay Centre October 3rd, 7:00pm, 45 School Road, Mahone Bay.