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Nova Scotia oil test plan draws ire

Seismic exploration effects cause concern
The Globe and Mail

7th March 2003

HALIFAX -- A Nova Scotia tribunal has enraged many environmentalists and fishermen in the province by giving the yellow light to two controversial applications to explore for oil off Cape Breton's shores.

After a fractious four-year debate over the potential economic and environmental impact of exploration activity on marine life off Cape Breton, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board yesterday gave conditional approval to Dallas-based Hunt Oil Ltd. and Halifax-based Corridor Resources Inc. to begin seismic work this fall.

Before permits are issued, however, the board wants to see the results of a study on the impacts of seismic shooting on snow crab off Newfoundland.

The board will restrict the seismic testing -- firing soundings into the seabed to try to locate petroleum deposits -- to the period between Nov. 1, 2003, and Feb. 28, 2004, and will not allow any activity within 10 kilometres of the shore.

But fishermen and environmentalists insist the seismic shooting will disrupt the spawning patterns of scarce fish such as cod and damage valuable shellfish populations such as lobster and snow crab. There are also concerns that the noise will injure sensitive whales in the area.

Elizabeth May, executive-director of the Sierra Club of Canada who was a member of the working group that provided advice to the board, said seismic activity should not proceed because there isn't any scientific data on its impact on sensitive fish, crustacean and whale populations.

Ms. May said the board is allowing petroleum exploration to take place off Cape Breton when such work is banned all along the north-eastern coast of the United States.

"This is gambling with a very valuable ecosystem on which tens of thousands of people depend," Ms. May said.

Ms. May is appealing to the federal government to overturn the board's decision. If no action is taken, opponents of the exploration would likely have to take legal action, she said.

Osborne Burke, a fisherman from Ingonish, N.S., said the concerns of the fishermen about the impact of the proposed exploration activity have never been addressed.

He said the federal government is now considering closing the cod fishery around Cape Breton to save the depleted stocks, but the board is willing to allow exploration activity in the same area.

"It boggles the mind that the federal government is thinking about shutting down the cod fishery for the stocks to recover and then this board is going to allow another activity with potential impacts," said Mr. Burke, president of the North of Smokey Fishermens Association.

During a public review on the proposed oil activity, some Cape Breton politicians and labour leaders insisted that oil exploration is needed to develop offshore industries for the economically challenged area.