Canada must say no

All Ma­rine Pro­tected Ar­eas must be off lim­its to oil and gas ex­plo­ration ac­tiv­ity

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - SIERRA CLUB BY TONY REDDIN

Thank you for your re­cent ed­i­to­rial re­gard­ing oil in­dus­try development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. As you stated, Fish­eries Min­is­ter Do­minic Le­Blanc an­nounced last month that 80 per cent of a new so-called ma­rine pro­tected area (MPA) would be open to oil and gas development. The area in ques­tion is the Lau­ren­tian Chan­nel, the south­east en­try­way to the Gulf of St. Lawrence – and a key feed­ing and mi­gra­tory path­way for whales - in­clud­ing the mighty right whale - and the en­dan­gered leatherback tur­tle.

After years of con­sul­ta­tions, the process for des­ig­nat­ing the Lau­ren­tian Chan­nel MPA as pro­tected is work­ing its way through the par­lia­men­tary sys­tem: the pro­posed rules and bound­aries have been pub­lished in the Canada Gazette at :https://www.canada.ca/en/fish­eries-oceansnews/2017/06/ lau­ren­tian_chan­nel­pro­posed­marine­pro­tectedarea.html.

It’s clear from what’s laid out there that the lob­by­ing from the oil and gas in­dus­try has made its mark: only two small patches of the area will truly be pro­tected. The rest will be open to oil and gas.

The re­gion is very im­por­tant to skates and sharks, too. The area is one of the only known mat­ing grounds for por­bea­gle sharks, a species des­ig­nated en­dan­gered by the COSEWIC, and habi­tat for bask­ing sharks, high num­bers of smooth skates, and black dog­fish. It’s home to high den­si­ties and di­ver­sity of deep-sea corals, in­clud­ing high con­cen­tra­tions of a frag­ile type of co­ral known as a sea pen.

The re­sponse from Sierra Club and other pub­lic in­ter­est groups has been rapid and unan­i­mous: no oil and gas in our ma­rine pro­tected ar­eas. Mean­while, the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Petroleum Pro­duc­ers Vice Pres­i­dent Paul Barnes, was quick to com­ment, “that the whole area still holds some prom­ise” for oil and gas.

The an­nounce­ment calls into ques­tion the gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to truly pro­tect­ing 5 per cent of our oceans and coastal ar­eas this year, and 10 per cent by 2020. It came on the heels of a new study demon­strat­ing the dev­as­tat­ing im­pacts of seis­mic air­guns (which are used in oil ex­plo­ration) on ma­rine plank­ton, which are the ba­sis of the ma­rine food web.

In the lazy days of summer, the Min­is­ter of Fish­eries and Oceans prob­a­bly did not ex­pect the push back he re­ceived to his an­nounce­ment. But now he seems to be lis­ten­ing. Our mem­bers and sup­port­ers have sent Min­is­ter Le­Blanc and other lead­ers thou­sands of let­ters say­ing they don’t want oil and gas in ma­rine pro­tected ar­eas.

Now the Min­is­ter needs to make changes in re­sponse to this over­whelm­ing con­cern. We’ll be watch­ing to see what the fi­nal ver­sion of the reg­u­la­tions look like. This area de­serves full pro­tec­tion. And Cana­di­ans de­serve to know that our com­mit­ment to pro­tect key ocean and coastal seascapes will not be swayed by the lob­by­ing of the oil and gas in­dus­try.

We urge your read­ers to go to our ac­tion page on www.sier­r­a­club.ca/en/Sad­dest-news or write di­rectly to Fish­eries Min­is­ter Le­Blanc, to tell him you want all of the Lau­ren­tian Chan­nel – and all MPAs – to be off-lim­its to oil and gas.

Tony Reddin is a vol­un­teer mem­ber of At­lantic Chap­ter Sierra Club Canada Foun­da­tion Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee. The Foun­da­tion is part of a coali­tion of groups cur­rently go­ing to court to chal­lenge the New­found­land gov­ern­ment on development ac­tiv­ity in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In a fight to save the en­dan­gered right whale, its habi­tat in the Gulf, and the ma­rine chain of life it re­lies upon, the group is chal­leng­ing a drilling li­cence in the Gulf given to Cor­ri­dor Re­sources.

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