Online edition of Shunpiking
Thursday, Jan 01, 2004

Write On!

The oil and gas hearings in Cape Breton


Shunpiking, Atlantic Canada Today, January, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 40

As we go to press, shunpiking has received several letters and reports on the review commission on petroleum development in the southern Gulf and Sydney Bight inshore fishing grounds curently meeting in Wagmatcook, Cape Breton.

Dr. Irene Novaczek, a marine biologist and member of the Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition, writes that "the first days has served to show what defenders of the ecosystem are up against and it is not pretty. The Gulf is acknowledged as the most important marine ecological area in Canada (Loutfi 1973).

"Media coverage is as usual one-sided, sloppy and misleading. The lawyers hired by Hunt Oil to cross-examine public participants have already indulged in intimidation, and have been patronizing and disrespectful while badgering other participants.The commissioner (Theresa MacNeil), whose job it is to conduct a respectful and participatory hearing, has not intervened to protect members of the public from the unprofessional and unwarranted attacks by Hunt Oil lawyers.  

"Proponents have sought to have the expert advice of Dr Chris Clark, Director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University, discounted because he could not be there to present his evidence in person.

"His evidence, based on 30 years of research into the impact of seismic blasting on marine mammals, is a compelling indictment of the cumulative impact of marine industrial activity in the NW Atlantic. It clearly contradicted the industry’s ‘expert’ consultant who maintains that seismic blasting has no impact on anything of importance.

"Added to this, one pro-industry witness went on a rant, calling fish harvesters ‘killers’ of marine life, accusing environmentalists of grandstanding and misleading the public, arguing that environmental problems in the world were just a lie, and attacking activists concerned with Sydney tarponds -- all topics not just outside the terms of reference of the review but also completely unconnected with the core issue of petroleum development in the inshore fishery. This rant included what was clearly a personal attack on Elizabeth May, who went on hunger strike on Parliament Hill in 2001 over the Tar Ponds issue, and was in the room at the time. The commissioner allowed the presenter to proceed for a full half hour without reprimand.

"Fishermen and local environmental groups, assisted by the Sierra Club, are carrying almost all the burden.… 

"At this point it is critical for everyone who cares to make their way either to the hall in Wagmatcook, over the next three weeks (hearings run almost daily, 10am to 6pm). Support those of us who are speaking formally and to refute the arguments of elected officials who are arguing for the development. Register on the day to say a few words on your own behalf too. If we lose this fight and exploration is allowed on these two parcels -- the most important and sensitive marine habitats in the entire Gulf region -- there will be no stopping the petroleum industry either here or in BC.

"And don’t bother asking whether Environment Canada or DFO are doing their jobs and protecting this critical habitat. They both have submissions detailing the extreme importance and vulnerability of the southern Gulf and Sydney Bight. Neither has the guts to take the logical step of calling for a moratorium on near-shore petroleum development."

For details, and access to submissions, see

David Orton, coordinator of the Green Web, writes: "Most of us know in our hearts that the fix is in for the hearings. How could it be otherwise, if we critically look at the last 20 years? We are talking about token public participation, which will not be allowed to seriously interfere with the corporate/government plans for the fossil fuel industry…We cannot even protect ecological treasures like the Gully. Oil and gas licenses to exploit now cover the oceans off our shores, as they increasingly cover terrestrial areas in the Maritimes. (The Georges Bank Panel Report, which some are citing as a model, endorsed the fossil fuel industry: ‘Petroleum activities have a real contribution to make to economic development in the province.’ p 45)

"Yet our existing ecological footprint is already totally destructive for ourselves and is not any kind of role model for others. The concern must be for more than our own particular pet interest.…

"How can we fight this industry by playing by their rules? The National Energy Board and provincial government equivalent spin-offs are in place to promote this industry…

"We need to march and mobilize to our own drums. The January hearings should be denounced and repudiated, not participated in. We have to set up our own hearings, totally biased towards ALL the species we share our wonderous planet with -- as well as human interests, where we can truly bring out for public viewing, the destructive future which oil and gas exploration and development represents.

"Because of this Sable gas project experience, I will not be going to the January hearings."