Against offshore drilling? Your American neighbours are with you

This op-ed was originally posted on TheChronicleHerald.ca on November 5, 2019.

By SHEILA DAVIES and JOHN WEBER

We write as your southern neighbours, but neighbours nonetheless. Our homes on the U.S. Atlantic coast are much like Nova Scotia’s many coastal communities. The ocean is who we are. We fish. We are bound to our beaches, and we show them off to our visitors. We love our coasts and oceans; we rely on them for industry, community, and identity.

Beyond our common connection to the ocean, when it comes to local governance matters, our political realities are not far from your own. Local governments in the U.S. are routinely overburdened with responsibilities without having access to the resources to meet needs, and new risks are downloaded to us every day.

One risk we share is that of offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration. As our federal government puts our oceans at risk by attempting (so far unsuccessfully) to open Atlantic waters to offshore oil activity, our local governments are left to deal with all the associated threats and costs. The risks of offshore drilling in Nova Scotia are not much different. Seismic testing used to locate oil deposits put our fisheries at risk by introducing serious stressors to marine life of all kinds. The risk of oil and chemical spills is almost unimaginable, with the potential to leave affected areas with lasting poverty and ecological destruction like that which followed the BP spill on the Gulf Coast in 2010. Continued fossil fuel extraction exacerbates climate change, severe weather, and sea level rise, for which municipalities are already bearing huge costs.

 

Perhaps the most important similarity is that amid these real challenges, local communities on both sides of the border are not giving up. In Nova Scotia, about 25 per cent of municipal governments have asked for a public inquiry into offshore drilling, as have more than 65,000 Canadians.

Local communities and governments have played an instrumental role in keeping offshore drilling and its many risks off U.S. shores. We’ve worked hard to have our communities, neighbours and state governments understand that offshore drilling poses unreasonable risks to our ways of life.

The offer of jobs and royalties is often flaunted as a silver bullet solution to our problems, but the reality is we have communities, jobs, and economies here and now that rely on clean, beautiful oceans.

It’s clear that on both sides of the border, the existing decision-making processes around offshore drilling, and many forms of resource extraction, do not take seriously the questions and concerns of local communities.

Are we sure that offshore drilling won’t harm our fishing and tourism economies? Will royalties really trickle down to the communities that bear the risk? Can we ensure that drilling won’t harm our oceans, our communities, our workers? Is further exploration a wise move, given the urgent need to address climate change?

In the U.S., 370 communities understand that the answer to these questions is "no," and that under those circumstances, we cannot support offshore drilling or exploration. So far, the broad movement against offshore drilling has been successful in protecting our communities on the Atlantic coast from this dangerous activity.

A pertinent question for Nova Scotians is whether decision-making processes even give space to have these critical questions asked and answered. This is the central motivation behind the growing call for an offshore drilling inquiry — to find out whether offshore drilling, and the decision making structures that surround it, are really in the public interest.

Nova Scotians who critically question offshore drilling are in the good company of more than 370 municipalities, 2,200 public officials, and millions of individuals in the U.S. who are organizing to defend our communities.

Sheila Davies is the mayor of Kill Devil Hills, N.C. and the director of health and human services for Dare County, N.C.

John Weber is a town councillor in Bradley Beach, N.J. and a regional manager at the Surfrider Foundation.