The Gulf is Dying

The Gulf Is Dying.

On Monday, February 25th, we will be in court arguing that the licence to drill in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is illegal.

Given the no-holds-barred promotion of oil and gas off Newfoundland and Labrador, this case is an important test for the bounds of offshore petroleum boards, which have conflicting mandates to facilitate industry and regulate for safety and protecting the environment.

It could be the final test for protecting the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the endangered whales and fish that make their home there.

The Gulf is in trouble.

In the summer of 2017, along with the rest of the world, I watched with increasing alarm as one after another North Atlantic Right Whales were found dead off the East Coast. The total mortality mounted to 17 animals, with 12 of these whales found in the Gulf - a devastating blow for a population that only has about 411 animals left.

Last year, a scientific paper in Nature reported that changing ocean currents caused by climate change will create hypoxic conditions for ocean ecosystems. And precisely because of its unique mixing of ocean currents from the north and south, the Gulf is being hit harder by climate change than other places on the planet.

And just last month, scientists at the department of Fisheries and Oceans predicted the collapse of cod in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Meanwhile, after decades of struggle, Pictou Landing First Nation has been joined by local settlers and fishermen calling for the shut down and clean up of the toxic waste site at Boat Harbour (which the Nova Scotia government legislated must be done by January of next year). The pulp mill, which has been the the source of trillions of litres of waste pollution at Boat Harbour (along with a cocktail of other sources over the decades, like human sewage and industrial waste ) now wants to pump its effluent into the southern Gulf.

And of course, Corridor Resources, with permission from the offshore petroleum board and federal and provincial political leaders, wants to begin drilling at Old Harry, a site that is just tens of kilometres from Cape Breton and the Magdalen Islands.

We know that a spill in the Gulf could affect the coasts of five provinces, potentially reaching the scenic beaches of Prince Edward Island and the Maggies, the seascapes of Gros Morne, and the iconic shores of Cape Breton Island. By allowing drilling in the Gulf, more projects could be proposed: meaning more pollution, more seismic blasting, and more dependence on fossil fuels.

We had to launch a court challenge.

Going to court to stop this oil drilling licence was a big step. It was taken after almost a decade of trying, along with Gulf Defender Mary Gorman, to convince the offshore regulator and our political leaders that the Gulf is too precious and too fragile to allow the oil industry in.

We were honoured to be invited to a water ceremony celebrating the sacred waters of the Gulf, hosted by indigenous communities of the Gulf - who have called for a moratorium on oil and gas there since 2014. Thanks to the Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition - PEI, municipalities have called for a moratorium on oil and gas in the Gulf and two Standing Committees of the PEI Legislature recommended a moratorium and other actions to protect the Gulf in their Reports to the Legislature in November 2013.

You and I have rallied, educated, met with leaders and officials, and participated in so-called environmental assessments. But in spite of all the evidence, nothing has worked to stop this project.

Can we hope to turn things around for the Gulf?

We are buoyed by news that seven right whales calves have been spotted in their southern calving grounds. Given a breather by keeping fishing gear out of their habitat and altering shipping traffic, these seven baby whales give me hope that we can turn things around for the Gulf.

True, market forces and even the mounting global movement to shift off fossil fuels may put a stop to this licence. But it would be so wonderful to hear in our courts, once and for all, that this licence is truly null and void. And the Gulf will be given a chance to catch its breath.

Gretchen Fitzgerald
National Program Director
Your help is needed to save right whales and the Gulf.
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