STEPHENVILLE — With television images of the accident in the Gulf of Mexico that destroyed a shrimp industry and played havoc on thousands of miles of shoreline in the United States on his mind, Joe Eckert of Kippens wanted to express a few concerns.
That’s why he attended a public information session at the Holiday Inn in Stephenville on Monday night called the Western Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Area Strategic Environmental Assessment Update.
Eckert wasn’t the only one with concerns about offshore development in western Newfoundland — about 30 people had dropped by to see what the assessment update was all about.
“I do have concerns about it because if an accident took place like the one in the Gulf of Mexico, then once that happens, it’s (the environment) gone. We’re talking fishing grounds, tourist attractions like Gros Morne National Park and fragile shorelines throughout the western area (of the province),” he said.
Wallace LeRoy, a fish harvester from Point au Mal, said there is really not enough research completed yet to determine what would happen if there was oil development offshore and a mishap occurred.
“How much would it hurt the fish in the western Newfoundland area?” was his question.
LeRoy said there has been a decline in the amount of lobster being harvested in Port au Port Bay in recent years, since seismic testing was carried out in that location.
“We (fish harvesters) really don’t know if it can be attributed to the seismic or something else liked the area being overfished, but there is a concern about more seismic work being done,” he said.
LeRoy feels that any type of petroleum exploration offshore could end up being a deterrent to the fishery.
Ivan Benoit of Mainland, who fishes from Black Duck Brook on the Port au Port Peninsula, said he’s concerned about what would happen if the Old Harry site was developed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and there were some problem there.
He said due to its location and the migratory patterns for fish such as mackeral and cod, which travel right up through the channel where that offshore block is located, if there were a spill, what would be done for the fish harvesters and the whole coastal area.
Benoit said no seismic should be done in any water that is below 12 fathoms of depth because it will hurt the resource, especially lobster.
He said prior to the seismic done in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off Long Point, there were 18 harvesters fishing from Black Duck Brook Cove and another 20 from Blue Beach, all averaging 7,000 pounds of lobster a season. Now there are five harvesters in Black Duck Brook Cove and 10 to 12 at Blue Beach and they are averaging 3,500 to 4,000 pounds a season, which is a significant decline.
While he can’t prove it’s due to the seismic work, he is suspicious and wouldn’t want to see more done, especially in the more shallow water.
Debbie Brake-Patten of Kippens said while she has concerns about the offshore development, she still wants to look at what would be the best for the sustainability of Newfoundland and Labrador.
She hopes the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is established to ensure that best practices will be followed to protect the environment as well as the needs of those individuals that will be impacted physically and financially.
“With the cost of living going up and changing lifestyles and technology, we as a society and province must look at industry to lead us into the future,” Brake-Patten said.
Steve Bonnell, project manager with AMEC for the Strategic Environmental Assessment, said these information sessions have a regional approach in which the aim is to consider environmental issues and factors early in the planning that might impact the coastal areas of western Newfoundland.
He said while this is a regional approach, before any drilling program went ahead, the drilling company would have to go through its own environmental assessments, once proposed.
The first public information session took place in Port aux Basques on Sunday with about 22 people in attendance. Another takes place this evening in Corner Brook from 5-9 p.m. at the Pepsi Centre; on Wednesday from at the same time in Rocky Harbour at the Community Hall; then moves to Blanc Sablon, Quebec on Thursday at Salle Municipal.