Soon drilling in "one of Canada's most spectacular marine sites"?

Apr 23, 1998 02:00 AM

World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF) recently has called upon the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) to stop awarding any further development or exploration licenses in the Gully, one of Canada's most spectacular marine sites, until the federal government completes its conservation strategy for the area.
Located near Sable Island and resembling an underwater Grand Canyon, the Gully is widely recognised as an important biological area and is home to a vulnerable population of northern bottlenose whales. It was designated a Whale Sanctuary in 1992. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is currently engaged in public consultations to produce a conservation strategy for the region, which is expected for release in the Fall.
However, despite the Gully's conservation significance, the CNSOPB, the oil and gas regulatory authority that reports to the federal and Nova Scotia governments, has been requested and agreed to post an area, called Parcel Five, for bidding by industry. This parcel extends into the Whale Sanctuary, the heart of the Gully. Bidding closed on April 30, 1998.
"At the same time that one federal government department (DFO) is actively working an a conservation plan, the CNSOPB, which reports to the federal as well as the provincial government, is endangering that plan by putting this area out to tender by the industry. If this area is awarded to industry, seismic work in the Gully could begin as early as June, months before the DFO strategy is released," said Inka Milewski, Coordinator, Marine Protected Areas, Atlantic Endangered Spaces Campaign. " We can't allow the Gully to slip through the cracks because no one will take responsibility for its protection. Therefore, we are calling on the CNSOPB not to award Parcel Five to industry, and not to open other areas in the Gully for bidding until DFO has a conservation strategy in place."
WWF is also demanding that the CNOSPB honour the recommendations made by a federal Environmental Assessment Review Panel regarding the Gully. These recommendations, formally accepted by the CNSOPB last Fall, require that the boundaries of the Gully be clearly defined and that measures be put in place to mitigate potential negative impacts by the oil and gas industry.
"To now offer the Gully up for bids is putting the cart before the horse, and jeopardising the conservation future of this area in the face of the Panel's findings," said Monte Hummel, President of WWF Canada. "We take heart from the fact that the Regional Director of DFO has also called on the Board not to award any licenses in the Gully, and that the CNSOPB recently gave the issue a full hearing. However, we have yet to receive a commitment from the Board that Parcel Five will not be awarded. This is a bad precedent not only for the Gully, but for all existing and candidate protected areas in Canada."
WWF launched a national campaign in March 1997 to protect the Gully, as part of a broader initiative to complete a national network of marine, as well as terrestrial, protected areas right across the country. Public support for this goal continues to be very strong.
An April poll showed that 93 % of Atlantic Canadians felt it was important for governments to honour their commitment to speed up the establishment of marine protected areas.

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