Three years ago Cherri Foytlin, a resident of south Louisiana and author of Spill It! The Truth About the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Explosion, joined Maude Barlow and Council staff in a series of meetings and public talks warning of the dangers of TransCanada’s, now dead, Energy East pipeline project.
Cherri’s warnings to fisherman and communities dependent on clean waters for their livelihoods were stark. In her own words speaking about the impacts on the Louisiana coast and the Gulf of Mexico from the BP spill, “After a storm, we still have oil in our wetlands and on our beaches. Sea turtles and dolphins continue to wash ashore at an unprecedented rate. Our fisheries and fishing families are still trying to recover.”
At the time, these words were directed at the possibility of a major tar sands oil spill in the Bay of Fundy, but these words are ringing in my ears today.
Turns out BP, the same company responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster that saw 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled, the death of 11 workers and devastating consequences for local fisheries, economies and communities, wants to explore offshore drilling 230-370 kms off the southeast coast of Nova Scotia. Exploration could begin as early as Spring 2018.
And they want to do it at unprecedented depths. Deeper than at the Deepwater Horizon rig.
There is so much wrong with this proposal.
We must begin by not digging ourselves any deeper.
First off, we need to name the moment of history we are in, and act on it. It is time to stop further exploration and development of fossil fuels as part of addressing the crisis of unprecedented scale we face with climate change.
An important study featured in the Nature journal, concluded that, “development of resources in the Arctic and any increase in unconventional oil production [emphasis added] are incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2 °C."
Offshore drilling, as proposed by BP is indeed unconventional and should not be welcomed.
As stated in the Lofoten Declaration the Council of Canadians recently endorsed, we are in a deep hole with our climate. While a full transition away from fossil fuels will take decades, we must begin by not digging ourselves any deeper.
Simply put, further exploration and development of fossil fuels is incompatible with Canada's climate obligations and policies.
BP’s ambitions are a threat to coastal communities, waters and marine life
CPONS (Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia), a project of the South Shore chapter of the Council of Canadians, recently delivered a well researched and written submission to the ongoing Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEEA) review of BP's proposed exploratory drilling. In their submission they clearly outline the threats deepwater offshore drilling presents to Nova Scotian waters and communities, and challenge assumptions on the part of CEEA in deferring to a number of BP’s assurances.
As CPONS highlights, the environmental assessment includes a worst case scenario of a blow-out lasting 30 days.
The Gulf Horizon blow-out lasted near three times that long, and in waters shallower than being planned off of Nova Scotia. Indeed, an earlier Nova Scotia blow-out, not all that far from BP’s proposed development (at a gas exploratory well), lasted almost 8 months before it was capped successfully.
Meanwhile, BP's response strategies rely on the use of booms (in stormy North Atlantic waters) and dispersants, all of which were found inadequate by researches examining the Gulf Horizon disaster.
In fact, Cherri explicitly warned coastal communities of the use of dispersants, sold as a solution, but ended up being more like a poison pill. She described the frustration of meeting with and hearing of an untold number of people – clean-up workers and residents, children and grandmothers – chronically ill, they feel, because of the heavy use of a chemical dispersant applied to the oil during the spill.
Indeed the chemical dispersant BP may use off the coast of Nova Scotia would likely be the same that has been under investigation for its use and impacts with the Deepwater Horizon spill (Corexit).
Communities haven’t had their say
CPONS has major concerns about the lack of public understanding and consultation on the project; "Yet, public awareness of BP’s plans, and access to both the detail of those plans and expert advice on their efficacy, has been next to non-existent. For activity that has catastrophic potential (no matter how slim the likelihood in your estimation), this is not acceptable or just."
Among other suggestions, they call for hearings to take place in a number of affected communities, with independent publicly-funded, public interest cross-examination of industry representatives and government experts and allow for the calling of independent expert witnesses.
The Government of Canada also has a duty to consult Indigenous communities. Consultations to date have included engagement with Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn (KMKNO), the Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Incorporated (MTI), the Assembly of First Nations Chief of NB, and two bands in PEI.
These consultation groups don’t represent all the First Nations in the areas they are supposed to cover – for example, Sipekne’katik and Millbrook have both left the KMKNO, and Elispogtog is not part of the MTI.
There is also ongoing concern and criticism from grassroots Indigenous activists with these consultation groups as they do not truly represent the people. They also feel there is a lack of understanding of the Peace and Friendship Treaties and UNDRIP as well as a rejection of the format of EA consultation by grassroots Mi’kmaq people.