Risk vs. benefits need to be weighed

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Before any test wells are drilled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence the federal government needs to make sure environmental risks aren’t downplayed in the interests of big oil. A repeat of the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe in a confined space such as the body of water separating Newfoundland from the Maritimes and Quebec could have a devastating impact this region may never recover from.

Corridor Resources wants to drill an offshore exploratory well to search for oil and natural gas between Quebec’s Magdalen Islands and Newfoundland, but instead of ordering an independent review of the situation federal Environment Minister Peter Kent said in a letter earlier this week that he is allowing the company to continue with a basic environmental review of the project instead of the more detailed assessment environmentalists have been asking for.

Kent is also asking the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board to update a strategic environmental assessment it did in 2007 outlining the risks of drilling at the Old Harry basin area.

While the company is being ordered to conduct “thorough” public consultations the fear is this review will not be good enough. The board has suggested that a panel of independent experts or a mediator review the plans for the basin.

The question remains whether the benefits are higher than the risks. While it may be a case of putting the cart before the horse – considering no one really knows how much oil or gas is under the seabed – memories are still strong of last summer’s oil spill in the ecologically fragile Gulf of Mexico. In that case, 4.9 million barrels of crude oil flowed into the gulf over three months with extensive damage done to marine and wildlife habitats as well as to the fishing and tourism industries.

The five provinces bordering the Gulf of St. Lawrence need to be vigilant toward this project and any assessment that’s done because it’s their environment and economies that could be wiped out should what took place off Louisiana last summer take place here, even on a smaller scale.

Organizations: Corridor Resources, Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board

Geographic location: Gulf of Mexico, Newfoundland, Quebec Magdalen Islands Louisiana

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