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September 28, 2010
Article

Canada calls for permanent drilling ban on Georges Bank

by Bob Gustafson

An Atlantic Canada coalition of fishermen, processors, First Nations and environmental organizations is calling for a permanent oil and gas-drilling ban on Georges Bank. And on September 9 the organization, known as NoRig 3, was joined by Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter.

Coalition Chair Denny Morrow, who serves as executive director of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers, said that the push for a permanent ban has been in large part due to "environmental disasters around the world," citing the blowout in the Timor Sea off the Australian coast, as well as the two incidents in the Gulf of Mexico.

Another major reason for a permanent ban is the fishery itself, according to Morrow.

"It is the only area in the North Atlantic where we've had a major recovery of the groundfish stock. It's rich in biodiversity, it's very productive in scallops," he said and added, "Whales are out there, sea birds. It's just the richest area in the Canadian North Atlantic, and it should be protected."

Premier Dexter agrees. "We have a resource on the continental shelf, which has provided a livelihood for centuries. We want to make sure that that is adequately protected," he said.

In announcing that he would seek to extend the current drilling moratorium (due to expire in 2012), he added that he would include a call for an "indefinite" ban within the enabling legislation.

On the issue of jurisdiction Morrow explained, "Offshore decisions in Atlantic Canada are made co-operatively by the federal government and the provincial government. In the case of Georges Bank, Nova Scotia is the province that shares decision-making (and royalties if there are ever any) with the national government. In practice, the provincial government has been given the lead in making decisions about the moratorium on Georges and the Canadian government follows the provincial advice."

However, Morrow and Dexter both noted that only 20 percent of the Georges Bank fishery is within Canadian jurisdiction, with the remaining 80 percent belonging to the United States.

Dexter added, "One of the things that we're mindful of is the fact that there is an Offshore Continental Shelf Committee, there are committee hearings taking place in the United States right now and they're looking at these issues. By far the vast majority of Georges Bank is actually in American waters. What they will do or might do in the future will have an impact. What we want to do, of course, is to provide some leadership and say ‘This is how we view Georges Bank,' and see what happens on the U.S. side."

On the U.S. side, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has in fact called for a permanent Georges Bank drilling ban.

"BP's oil spill is threatening marine life and marine livelihoods all along the Gulf coast," Markey said. "And while this spill is unfolding more than 1,000 miles away, scientists are increasingly worried about how this spill may affect bird and sea life from the Bayous all the way up to Boston."

He added, "That's why I will be seeking to add provisions to the oil spill legislation that will soon be moving through the House that would keep Georges Bank safe from ever being the site of a future oil spill disaster. Legislation that I authored to protect Georges Bank has previously passed the House in 2008. The environmental disaster occurring in the Gulf is a stark reminder of why we can never allow Georges Bank to become BP's Bank. And why we must ensure that it is a home to shellfish, not Shell Oil."
On the Canadian side Morrow explained that the 3 in NoRigs 3 represents "our third moratorium campaign."

Noting that coalition members have not always seen eye-to-eye on many issues. Morrow said, "We do have an impressive coalition. We would prefer not to have to assemble our resources every few years to protect such an important fishing area and sensitive ecosystem."

He concluded, "The recovery of the haddock stock on Georges Bank through joint Canadian/U.S. management of trans-boundary groundfish stocks is a real success story. Both countries should cooperate by implementing a permanent ban on oil and gas development on Georges Bank."

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