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A coalition of concerned groups and citizens opposed to the opening of more areas around Sable Island to oil exploration is calling on Nova Scotians to take back their democracy.

The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board issued a call on Monday for bids for exploration in two parcels in shallow waters of the Sable sub-basin. The parcels were nominated by industry.

The Offshore Alliance, represented at a news conference in Halifax by John Davis of the Clean Ocean Action Committee; Robin Tress, Council of Canadians; Marilyn Keddy, Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia and Gretchen Fitzgerald, Sierra Club Canada Foundation, called for the exploration bid to be cancelled, a moratorium put in place and a full public inquiry into the offshore oil industry.

Davis said the areas encompassed in the new proposed exploration parcels are dangerous to drill and represent a tremendous risk to fisheries, tourism and other renewable industries.

He said he represents more than 9,000 people who are directly dependent on the renewable resources of the Scotian Shelf.

“It’s simply not sensible what’s happening,” Davis said after the news conference, held at the Ecology Action Centre offices. “It doesn’t make sense. We need a government that will come and sit down with us and actually evaluate what the true value of just the fishing industry — over 20,000 direct jobs and another 20,000 jobs that are ancillary jobs, related just to the fishing industry alone. There wouldn’t be 100 jobs in the oil and gas industry. What are they thinking? Why are they putting that at risk?

“Literally, we have to reclaim our government from industrial lobbies. We have to reclaim our government now. The time has come.”

A map of the Sable Island oil field parcels. The areas in pink are wound down or in the process of being wound down. The areas in green are being opened for bids for oil exploration.
A map of the Sable Island oil field parcels. The areas in pink are wound down or in the process of being wound down. The areas in green are being opened for bids for oil exploration.

Davis said millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money aimed to help facilitate offshore exploration should be better spent promoting tourism and Nova Scotia seafood.

The panel member claimed the oil and gas industry is “basically controlling the regulators and that just doesn’t make sense anymore. We have to put an end to it.”

Stacy O’Rourke, director of communications for the CNSOPB, said in an emailed statement that there are specific protections in place for oil and gas activities related to Sable Island National Park Reserve.

“Should any exploration licences ultimately be issued, an oil and gas company must demonstrate that they will be able to perform the work in a safe and environmentally responsible manner before any authorization would be provided by the CNSOPB, with specific consideration to proximity to the Sable Island National Park Reserve,” O’Rourke said.

Fitzgerald pointed out the rich diversity of the Sable Island ecosystem that would be at risk.

“Just last week, Canadians were being consulted as to whether activities such as camping should be allowed on Sable Island,” the Sierra Club Canada Foundation member said.

She called the request for bids for oil exploration “a slap in the face.”

She said a spill such as one that took place last month off Newfoundland when 250,000 litres of oil leaked at Husky Energy’s SeaRose platform would be devastating for Sable.

Feral horses graze on Sable Island.
Feral horses graze on Sable Island.

The alliance cited a UN report on climate change that set a timeline of 11 years before the results would become catastrophic.

“If there were ever a time and a place to show how we are shifting toward meeting the challenge of climate change it would be here and it would be now,” Fitzgerald said.

She also highlighted the risk to marine mammal populations from seismic testing, a concern backed up by Hal Whitehead, a Dalhousie University ocean researcher who attended the news conference.

“It’s an extraordinary area,” Whitehead said. “It’s a wonderful place. I love it out there.”

He said it’s apparent through his research while listening for whales that oil exploration is totally changing the acoustic environment.

“We are finding that the stresses in the whales have increased as our sounds put into the oceans go up,” he said.

“What we’re putting out there with the seismic and so on is huge. So, yeah, there’s big risk of something big happening in these areas if drilling starts.”

The alliance members said they were bringing a petition with more than 60,000 signatures to Andy Fillmore, the Liberal MP whose riding includes Sable Island, calling for the inquiry and moratorium. They also asked Energy Minister Derek Mombourquette to veto the call for bids.

Mombourquette said he supports the work of the CNSOPB.

“We’ve had activity in that area for a generation, so as they go through this bid process, they look at all aspects before they put those bids out,” Mombourquette said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

“Looking specifically at the Sable area, there is a one-nautical mile boundary which will be adhered to, so that will continue. But I’m confident in the work that they’ve done.”

He does appreciate the environmental concerns people are raising, he said.

“These are all important conversations that take place every day in our communities and for us it’s a balance,” Mombourquette said. “But we’re going to continue also to be a leader in reducing our carbon footprint. We are below our 2005 levels, we continue to provide new initiatives across the province through our Department of Energy and Mines and we’re going to continue to do that.”

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