2018 in review: offshore drilling

2018 was a huge year for the growing resistance to offshore drilling! As this year draws to a close we’re reflecting on how far we’ve come, where we need to go next, and what we’ve learned in our struggle to protect offshore Nova Scotia from the threats of offshore drilling!

Below is a quick and non-exhaustive chronology of the banner moments for 2018, followed by some key lessons learned.

January: The Offshore Alliance (which includes the Council of Canadians and Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia) kicked off the year with a huge press conference and rally calling for a moratorium on offshore drilling given the innumerable risks to marine life, coastal communities, and existing economies in Nova Scotia.  

February: Environment and Climate Change Canada approved BP’s drilling project which includes seven exploratory wells – one of which is twice as deep as BP’s Macondo well, infamous for its massive blowout and biggest marine oil spill in history.

March: We hosted a three-stop tour in Nova Scotia featuring journalist and energy analyst Antonia Juhasz. Through this tour we shared critical information about BP’s history of cutting corners to make money while putting communities and whole oceans at risk, and we helped shape Nova Scotians understanding of the captured nature of the regulatory system that surrounds offshore drilling.

Our fearless tour organizing crew! Left to right starting in the back: Jane Morrell, Peter Puxley, Robin Tress, Colin Sproul, Marilyn Keddy, Antonia Juhasz, Marion Moore, Angela Giles.

An incredible snowstorm hit Nova Scotia during our tour, but we perservered! Photo credit:Lighthouse Now.

April: Environment and Climate Change Canada approved BP’s drilling project, and they moved their rig into Nova Scotia waters. We threw them an Unwelcoming Party for the ages. More on that unwelcoming party here.

Photo credit: Ajay Parasram

It was an unwelcoming party for the ages! There was much dancing. Photo credit: Monica Phung.

May: We learned that “the “risks of accidents and malfunctions” have not been properly assessed, documented and validated by BP,” according to veteran industry risk analyst Dr Robert Bea, and that Environment and Climate Change Canada had approved BP’s drilling project based on incomplete, insufficient information.

June: BP spilled 136,000L of synthetic drilling mud into the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the Council’s annual conference, so we work our outrage into a climate march in Ottawa! Lunenburg and Mahone Bay town councils takes a stand against offshore drilling.

March for climate justice in Ottawa in June 2018.

July: BP starts work again despite ongoing investigation into how they managed to have such a significant spill so soon after commencing drilling. The Municipality of Shelburne joins the growing list of municipal governments speaking out about the risks of offshore drilling.

August: Scientists warn that 2018 is shaping up to be the fourth hottest year on record, and by the end of the year we see that confirmed. Forest fires rage across BC, Northern Ontario and other regions, multiple provinces experience drought conditions for the rest of the summer season. Climate change is impacting our communities here and now, and we remember once again that climate change is not a future problem, it’s a current crisis.

September: the Town of Shelburne, the District of Shelburne, and the District of Lunenburg all join the list of municipalities speaking out about offshore drilling. Catherine McKenna comes to Halifax for the G7 Oceans Summit and somehow manages to brag about the federal government’s efforts to protect the oceans while still allowing one of the most careless companies on Earth to drill for oil at unprecedented depths in the middle of the climate crisis.

October:  We learned that more than half of Nova Scotians don’t support BP drilling offshore, and that nearly 90% of people think there needs to be a capping stack available within 24 hours (current regulations allow offshore drilling to take place while the nearest capping stack is in Norway with a two-week shipping estimate). The Council of Canadians and the Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia host another tour stopping in Halifax and Mahone Bay, and embark on a flotilla along with six kayak touring operators on the South Shore. The IPCC released its dire warning that we have just over 11 years to curb GHG emissions before the earth’s climate tips past a point of no return, and chapters across the country deliver demands for their MPs to take this report seriously.

Our flotilla in Mahone Bay! Photo credit: Gavin Hatheway.

November: We learn that BP’s first well has turned up dry, which is incredible news but is not the end of our fight. Equinor, Norway’s state run oil company formerly known as StatOil, has a seismic testing project lined up in Nova Scotia in 2019, and MKI has an even bigger seismic project intended to map the entirety of Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast.

December: We launched our photo series Faces of Offshore Resistance to highlight the people who are fighting to protect their communities and livelihoods from the risks of offshore drilling. Husky spilled at least 250,000L of oil offshore Newfoundland and that provincial government questioned the ability of the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board to do its job. The municipalities of Barrington and Wolfville join the call for a moratorium on offshore drilling.

What we learned:

The pile off evidence against offshore drilling is overwhelming

In the last few years the reasons not to drill have only become clearer. Shell dropped a huge pipe and almost hitting its wellhead at the bottom of the ocean, BP spilled synthetic drilling mud, Husky spilled a huge amount of oil offshore Newfoundland, and seismic testing harms marine life from plankton to Right whales. These are just a few examples of the kind of mounting evidence points to two things: 1) fossil fuel companies make huge mistakes that put us all at risk and the regulators are impotent to do anything about it, and 2) this industry is so, so risky.

We need a moratorium on drilling and an inquiry into the regulatory system that governs it. It’s clear that the system we have isn’t good enough for our communities or our coasts.

Corporate capture is alive and well

As we saw through BP’s project being approved by both the federal government and CNSOPB despite the lack of consultation with Nova Scotians or due regard for other industries like fishing and tourism,  and then BP being reapproved after a massive spill of synthetic drilling mud, regulators prioritize the fossil fuel industry’s interests over everything and everyone else. This is a result of a many decades creep of fossil fuel interests into our democratic structures like the Offshore Petroleum Boards, and legislation like the Canada Parks Act.

Community organizing works

The Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia has gained the support from nine municipal governments. We have reached thousands of people through our events and tours, and many more through our media appearances. Is offshore drilling worth this risk? We’re learning that more and more people don’t think so. Listen to this interview with CPONS members Marilyn Keddy and Peter Puxley to hear more wisdom from their experiences organizing their communities to get a moratorium and inquiry into offshore drilling in Nova Scotia.

If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution

Thinking too hard about offshore drilling and the impending doom of the climate crisis is enough to drive anyone off the deep end. An important part of this work has been to introduce fun and creativity as much as possible. At the Unwelcoming Party, there was dancing. Like, serious dancing! And drumming! It was a real party! After the panicked organizing of this event and the depressing news that BP’s rig was on its way into Nova Scotia’s waters, this party was what we needed to both demonstrate our unending resistance and to loosen up a little!

We’ve had art days, sign making parties, and photo projects worked into this campaign. We have our meetings on nice sunny decks looking out at the beautiful coast we’re trying to protect. We celebrate after successful events. Even writing this blog has been a personal celebration and demonstration of how far we’ve come this year.

Thanks to everyone who was part of the action in 2018! We hope you’ll be part of our 2019, too!