Online edition of Shunpiking
Thursday, Jan 01, 2004
Seismic Vibes

Half-truths and deception in the service of the oil multinationals

By Bill MacDonald* Special to Shunpiking Online

(JUDIQUE, November 19, 2003) --The Halifax Herald ran a front page news story last week about oil and gas exploration. In that story, Cecil Clarke, Nova Scotia's minister of energy, was quoted as saying, "Obviously, we've been in favour of allowing them to proceed with the ... seismic testing." Mr. Clarke said, "I think that all the conditions necessary to proceed with a safe seismic test are in place."

I wonder if the bureaucrats are telling Minister Clarke the truth. For one thing, scientists from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans wrote a scathing 17-page review of the environmental assessment that Corridor Resources submitted to the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) in support of their application to do seismic blasting next month in near-shore waters just off the coast of western Cape Breton. There was virtually no point that received a positive comment from DFO scientists. How can Minister Clarke say, "all the conditions necessary to proceed with a safe seismic test are in place?" He can't, unless his staff and other bureaucrats (who have known the truth for almost a year now) have not been telling him the truth. But then how can he say this anyway not knowing what the facts are? Someone is either not telling the minister what he needs to know to make informed decisions or the minister is simply misstating the facts.

Considering the fact that there is virtually no science done anywhere in the world to prove seismic does or does not harm snow crab, the statement is making a statement that has no foundation in fact. Should a person in such a powerful position, elected by the voters, be so cavalier in his dealing with a decision that may harm the main fishery of Cape Breton Island? More than $100 million is generated from the snow crab fishery annually and the minister is saying that, despite the fact there is no science to prove it, "all the conditions necessary to proceed with a safe seismic test are in place".

Really?

There was a science project done last year in Newfoundland by the same consultant that Corridor Resources hired to do their application to the CNSOPB, and it was found lacking by independent scientists engaged by the Board to do a peer review. With such a conflict of interest this consultant has in the matter, it may be no wonder the facts are unclear. The "behavioral aspects" of that study were so poorly done that the reviewer said that the results cannot even be considered. This assessment, completed in spring 2003, was known to the CNSOPB and senior Department of Energy staff. How can the minister be so poorly informed? If he is properly informed can he really say "all the conditions necessary to proceed with a safe seismic test are in place." The minister's statement is simply untrue -- all conditions are not in place!

Last week at a press conference in Halifax three distinguished scientists made it clear to the minister that there were indeed risks to proceeding with seismic blasting without any proper science being done to determine if harm will come to the fishery as well as whales and the ecosystem. Beyond this, the minister has been personally informed by opponents of the exploration application that all these problems exist, but he has refused to accept any of the precautions urged on him. With this added evidence as a backdrop, it seems rather strange that Minister Clarke would be so confident that "all the conditions necessary to proceed with a seismic test are in place."

A few weeks ago one of Minister Clarke's senior staffers led a group of fishermen to the North Sea on a fact-finding mission and, upon his return, composed a report that read something like, "we were unable to find any scientific evidence that seismic is harmful to snow crab stocks." While this is a fact, what the staffer failed to state is that there is no snow crab fishery in the North Sea, so it is perfectly obvious why there is no scientific evidence -- no studies were ever done.

The real facts are that the Norwegians, for instance, do science six times annually on their most important fishery. It is this type of misrepresentation, to the public and possibly to the minister, that has us fishermen so frustrated with our elected officials. There is simply no honesty in reporting the facts. It is clear that the bureaucrats are playing fast and loose with due process. Why is it that the Norwegians find it necessary to do this amount of science on their most economically important fishery and Minister Clarke will not even allow any science to be done on the most important fishery to the Cape Bretoners?

The minister says, "all the conditions necessary to proceed with a seismic test are in place." But this is blatantly untrue. Why? Is it because the minister's staff and the regulators themselves are not being completely untruthful with him or is it that the minister is not being honest with the public? Is it that he is just cherry-picking and embracing the snippets of information that support his desire to do whatever the oil companies demand of him while overlooking those more alarming and precautionary science reports that suggest that proceeding is reckless? Those of us in the fishery -- the most affected if the minister is wrong -- know the truth about the lack of science.

Why Minister Clarke insists in rejecting science in favour of the half-ruths offered by his poorly motivated bureaucrats is a mystery to us. Is it that he only wants to hear what he wants to hear?

It is obvious to us that favouring the oil company's option is not an appropriate response considering the advice provided by DFO and other scientists to Minister Clarke. If the quote in last week's Herald accurately reflects Minister Clarke's position, I would say he is not fit to make public policy decisions.

*Bill MacDonald is an Area 19 Snow Crab fishermen who lives in Judique, Cape Breton Island