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Trudeau’s oil & gas agenda in the Gulf of St. Lawrence threatens whales

North Atlantic right whales.

The Council of Canadians has opposed plans to drill for oil and gas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence since November 2010 on the basis that it threatens to pollute the ocean, puts marine life at risk, further contributes to climate change, and violates the rights of the Innu, Maliseet and Mi’kmaq who have called for a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Gulf.

The federal government has estimated that there might be as much as 39-trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 1.5-billion barrels of oil in the Gulf – and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to allow oil and gas exploration in the Laurentian Channel (a deep underwater trench between Newfoundland and the Maritimes), where the Gulf of St. Lawrence meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Radio Canada highlights, “The Laurentian Channel is a critical migration route for some of our most endangered whales, including humpback and minke whales, as well as endangered blue whales and endangered North Atlantic right whales, and oil and gas exploration and extraction threatens them with noise pollution, habitat disturbance and physical injury from seismic blasting…”

The area in question is located about 150 kilometres away from the ‘Old Harry’ site in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This past January, the Trudeau government approved a four year extension on a licence for Halifax-based Corridor Resources Inc. to conduct deepwater oil and gas exploration in that area.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Press reported, “The federal government is ordering large vessels to slow down in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, as it tries to protect right whales who frequent the waters. Ten of the endangered mammals have died in the gulf since early June — at least some after colliding with ships. …[Transport minister Marc] Garneau said vessels of 20 metres or more will be required to slow to 10 knots — or about 19 kilometres per hour — while travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence, from the Quebec north shore to just north of Prince Edward Island.” That article adds, “The speed limit is meant to reduce the frequency and fatality of ship strikes, [the Transport minister] said.”

But the Toronto Star editorial board argues to save the whales, the federal government must ban drilling in the Gulf. It has written, “Ottawa is easing the way as pressure builds to open the Gulf to oil and gas exploration – a move that would disrupt marine life of all kinds and inevitably lead to more shipping activity, further putting the whales at risk. This is a very bad idea. …Even short of a spill, the seismic method used to explore for oil and gas carries its own risks. It would involve sending sound waves into layers of underwater rock to determine the best spot for drilling. Scientists warn that can seriously disrupt fish and marine mammals.”

The editorial board adds, “The Harper government opened the door for possible offshore drilling in the Gulf in its 2012 budget, which included a measure that underlined the area’s energy potential and made it easier for oil companies to explore for petroleum resources. The Trudeau government has let the process continue by permitting exploration in most of the new marine protection area and allowing a federal-provincial regulator, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, to extend the exploration licence for Coastal Resources for a further four years.”

Furthermore, the CBC reported earlier this week that the ocean temperature in the Gulf of St. Lawrence reached record or near-record highs in 2016 (which is most likely related to climate change). That article also noted that zooplankton, the food source eaten by right whales, are moving into the Gulf of St. Lawrence because of the warming water. The article then highlights, “The question is whether the zooplankton are leading the whales into a shipping lane super highway.”

It should be noted that the Trudeau government is also pushing for the provisional implementation of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) on September 21. The Globe and Mail has reported that CETA has prompted Maersk Line, a Danish transnational and the world’s largest container-ship company, to add new service between Montreal and European ports. The company has seen its Canadian volumes grow by 15 per cent this year and its Canadian operations president Jack Mahoney says CETA should spur even greater growth in marine traffic.

The Council of Canadians calls on the Trudeau government to ban oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to take further action to eliminate the risk of ships striking whales in the Gulf, and to additionally acknowledge that tanker traffic resulting from the Kinder Morgan pipeline (approved by the Trudeau government in November 2016) threatens orca whales off the coast of British Columbia.