Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Oil and Gas Drilling: A Threat from Neighboring Waters

New stock assessments indicate the Georges Bank cod population is in a dire state. Image via

A recent proposal for offshore oil production in Canada poses a real threat to New England’s marine environment. The Shelburne Basin Venture Exploration Drilling Project’s proposed lease blocks are located directly adjacent to the northeast peak of Georges Bank.

Shell Canada Limited is looking to conduct this exploratory drilling project 250 kilometers off the coast of Nova Scotia. The project will consist of drilling up to seven exploration wells between 2015 and 2019. The location of these drilling sites will be based off data from a seismic survey conducted in 2013.

On March 27, 2015, the public comment period for the project’s Draft Environmental Assessment Report closed. The report highlights the primary concern that experts, aboriginal communities, and the public expressed about the project: the potential effects of a large spill, as could occur from a blowout, on the marine ecosystem, fishing, and special areas like Georges Bank.

Georges Bank is located 120 kilometers west of the proposed project area. Canada currently has a moratorium on oil and gas activity in the Georges Bank area.

In the Draft Environmental Assessment Report, project proponents cavalierly downplayed the probability of oil from a spill or blowout reaching Georges Bank, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency concluded that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.

However, oil drilling in these neighboring waters poses a real threat to New England’s marine environment and to the U.S. and Canadian fishing businesses and communities that depend on the health of that environment.

Nova Scotia’s government estimated that more than 120 trillion cubic feet of gas and eight billion barrels of oil could be recovered from the Shelburne project.

John Davis, a former fisherman from Shelburne and founding member of NORIGS fishery industry coalition, points out that the Labrador Current, which runs along the edge of the Scotian Shelf and brings deep, nutrient rich waters to the surface in the Georges Bank area, could bring oil directly into Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine. This would have devastating consequences for the area, which already suffers from overfishing.

The well-known gyre that circulates clockwise around the flanks of Georges Bank may well be the most important oceanographic feature contributing to the bank’s legendary productivity. Eggs, larvae, plankton, warmth, sunlight—these are the formula for heavy biological production for centuries to come. Scientific drifters cycled one revolution of the bank every 48 days in this current. When—not if—the pollutants and contaminants from the drilling muds, chronic and catastrophic oil seepages and spills, and even the compounds dispersed to break up the oil residue from spills become incorporated into that same gyre, they will not leave death behind, poisoning the ocean.

CLF has successfully fought oil and gas drilling off of New England’s coast since 1978. The recently proposed Shelburne drilling project puts the region’s fishing industry and marine environment at risk. Just say “no!”

Angela Warner is a Legal Intern for Conservation Law Foundation.


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