Format of oil sessions questioned

Gary Kean
Published on October 3, 2012
Marilyn Clark, right, of the St. Lawrence Coalition talks to, from left, Kyle Curlew and Tara Gadoua, during the public consultation session on the industry in western Newfoundland in Corner Brook Tuesday evening.
Gary Kean

CORNER BROOK — Marilyn Clark pulls out a copy of the strategic environmental assessment report done on the western Newfoundland offshore oil industry first drafted in 2005.

The roughly 400-page document, which was updated in 2007, is in the process of being updated again.

Clark, who is concerned about the public consultation process currently being undertaken as part of updating the report, said the consultations fall short of addressing the many issues raised by the prospect of continued exploration and production of oil and gas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

“I am very disappointed this has been condensed into eight slides,” she said of the session hosted by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board in Corner Brook Tuesday night.

Board staff were stationed at each of a series of maps and informational placards and prepared to try and answer whatever questions the visiting public had.

Clark, who is from the Magdalen Islands and intends to go to all four public meetings in western Newfoundland this week, said the consultation process is lacking an organized exchange of information between the industry and the public.

“We have information on what the CNLOPB (Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board) is, what an environmental assessment is, information on the process, a picture of a big oil rig and three maps,” she said. “It’s very basic and does not comprise what a strategic environmental assessment should talk about.”

Clark is a member of an environmental organization called the St. Lawrence Coalition, that is calling for a moratorium on oil and gas exploration and production in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. She said there should have been more information and open dialogue on the impact the industry could have on the environment, aquatic spawning areas and wildlife migration patterns, the gaps in data that exist and the plans for mitigation in the event of an accidental spill of oil along the coast.

Migrating salmon

Don Ivany, the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s director of programs in Newfoundland and Labrador, is concerned about the impact seismic studies and well drilling, not to mention the potential for an accident of some sort, could have on the salmon that migrate throughout the Gulf of St. Lawrence every year. Until that, and other impacts that could affect the region’s economy are better understood, he supports a moratorium on the industry in this marine area.

“There is very little baseline data available in the Gulf so, if there are any impacts, nobody can really determine what they are, or the magnitude of them, because we would have no starting point,” he said.

Will Baker was one of the 87 people who went to Tuesday’s session at the Pepsi Centre in Corner Brook. He too was expecting a format where the offshore board would make a presentation and then open the floor to questions for a joint discussion.

“I think that would be a bit more helpful in having everybody know what’s going on and everybody being on the same page and hearing different points that anyone might bring to the forum,” said Baker. “The way it is, there is less of a chance to see other people’s reactions and points of view. You’re not going to hear what each of these people at each of these tables have to say or what the responses are to them.”

The format of the public session wasn’t Clark’s only beef with the process. According to her, board officials are consulting with specific groups during the day before the evening sessions that are open to the public.

She wanted to know who is attending those sessions behind closed doors.

“Why do they need these closed private sessions and what format do those sessions follow?” she asked. “Do they have a question and answer (format)?”

She said every resident of the four Atlantic provinces and Quebec, all of which border the Gulf of St. Lawrence, are equal stakeholders when it comes to what happens with offshore oil and gas exploration and production.

None of the offshore board officials at the session would go on the record for an interview and, as of press time, the organization’s public relations officer did not return The Western Star’s request for a comment about private meetings with certain stakeholders.

Bob Cadigan, who is president and chief executive officer of the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association, was also at Tuesday’s session in Corner Brook. He said the oil and gas industry is tremendously important to the Newfoundland and Labrador economy and thought the open house format of the board consultations was effective in educating people about the industry and getting their views on it.

“If you take a different setup with presentations and so on, you tend to have a room dominated by a few people,” he said. “This kind of approach really lets everybody’s views be heard. So, there is an advantage to it in that regard.”

There will eventually be a draft of the updated strategic environmental assessment which everyone will have a chance to offer opinions on once again, noted Cadigan.

The public consultation sessions continue at the Community Hall in Rocky Harbour this evening and in Blanc Sablon Thursday.