Op-Ed: Province needs to take action to protect fishery in event of drilling blowout

August 27, 2015

The fishery is crucial to Nova Scotia’s economy as it supports the livelihoods of literally thousands of families from one end of the province to the other.

I myself am a former fisherman, following in the footsteps of my father and my grandfather. Nothing is more important to me than ensuring this resource is protected. That’s why I’m deeply concerned about the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency decision to allow Shell to take up to 21 days to cap a drilling blowout off the coast of Nova Scotia. To put it bluntly 21 days of inaction sounds like recipe for disaster to me.

Shell’s deepwater Shelburne Basin project is located 250 kilometres off our coast. As Denny Morrow, former executive director of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association pointed out in a recent Chronicle Herald article, a blowout left uncapped for 21 days would place haddock, lobster and crab stocks at risk. Furthermore, “Browns Bank and Georges Bank could both be irreparably damaged if pollution moved in that direction.”

The provincial government has a responsibility to ensure safe development of the energy sector. We all want jobs here in rural Nova Scotia, but we need to keep our fishing grounds and coastlines safe for a sustainable fishery as well. The fishing and oil industries can coexist – the needs of one need not override the other – but strong, sensible and science-based regulations are crucial.

While the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has approved Shell’s plan, the province through its representatives on the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, can help ensure additional conditions are placed on the project. Specifically the province must ensure the timeline to cap a blowout is decreased; 21 days is just too long.   

I strongly urge Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell, Environment Minister Andrew Younger, and Energy Minister Michel Samson to ensure that if the worst were to happen – if there were an oil spill from a deep water well, that we wouldn’t have a repeat of 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which started in April and wasn’t capped until July.