Legal challenge begun in relation to exploratory drilling in marine refuge

Oil platforms dot the ocean off the east coast of Newfoundland, A new exploration licence will overlap into a marine reserve. (CBC)

Environmentalists are dismayed that a permit has been given to allow oil exploration to take place in one of Canada’s coastal marine reserves.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) announced last week that it will grant an exploratory license to BP Canada Energy Group to drill for oil in Atlantic Canada’s largest protected marine area.

The permit covers 264,500 hectares of ocean floor some of which extends into the refuge area

The reserve is known as the Northeast Newfoundland Slope Closure was designated as a protected (refuge) area of 55.000[1] in 2017. This was due to an abundance of fragile corals and sponges which also provide habitat for a variety of other species.

Northeast Newfoundland Slope Closure- a marine refuge off the east coast (DFO)

The area was so designated to protect these species from bottom fishing nets. While protected from damaging bottom fishing, the reserve status was under the Fisheries Act and does not prohibit resource development such as oil and gas exploration and drilling.

Map of various oil drilling areas and leases ( C-NLOPB)

According to the non-profit Ecology Action Centre,[2] the new permit coupled with leases granted previously, means development activity has been approved for roughly one quarter of the refuge. A marine refuge does not have the same protection as a Marine Protected Area.

In a press statement  Jordy Thomson, Senior Marine Coordinator (Ecosystems) with EAC said, “It is important that marine refuges offer a high quality of protection so they can effectively safeguard Atlantic Canada’s unique and sensitive marine life. It doesn’t make sense to ban bottom fishing but allow drilling. International guidance on protected areas is clear that industrial activities like oil and gas should not be permitted within protected areas.”

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