Environmental groups give petition to N.S. petroleum board over Shell offshore drilling decision

The groups collected over 230,000 signatures, drew chalk fish on the sidewalk to represent loss of marine life from oil spill

Protesters hold placards as part of a petition effort against the CNSOPB's decision to allow Shell to drill off the coast of Nova Scotia
Protesters hold placards as part of a petition effort against the CNSOPB’s decision to allow Shell to drill off the coast of Nova Scotia   Steve Large

Several environmental groups are petitioning the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board to reverse its decision to allow Shell Canada Ltd. to drill off the coast of Nova Scotia.

The Ecology Action Centre, SumofUs, the Clean Ocean Action Committee, and Greenpeace delivered over 230,000 signatures to the CNSOPB on Wednesday. The group’s primary concern is the 12-day time limit Shell has to cap a blowout.

Alex Speers-Roesch, Arctic campaigner for Greenpeace, said the oil regulator allowed Shell to keep a key piece of oil spill response equipment–called a capping stack–in Norway.

“That really slows down response time in event of a spill,” he said. “It means they won’t be able to get this equipment…on site for 12 days. That means 12 days of spilling oil. That poses a big threat to marine life. It poses a big threat to Nova Scotia’s fisheries. We’re here to send the message that this is unacceptable.”

The environmental groups want Shell to cap blowouts within 24 hours, as required by the U.S. government when drilling in Alaskan waters.

“Nova Scotia deserves the same levels of safety they have in Alaska,” said Speers-Roesch.

SumofUs, a global corporation watchdog organization, collected the signatures from around the world and delivered them in a box to the CNSOPB. About a dozen protesters drew 47 chalk outlines of dead fish on the sidewalk outside the CNSOPB offices in Halifax to represent the destruction to the environment: one fish for every 5,000 signatories.

Chalk drawings of dead fish on the sidewalk outside CNSOPB's office in Halifax represented the damage an oil spill could cause to the environment.
Chalk drawings of dead fish on the sidewalk outside CNSOPB’s office in Halifax represented the damage an oil spill could cause to the environment.   Steve Large

Rosa Kouri, campaigns director of SumofUs, said local communities and the ecosystem need to be placed first.

“We think that our coastal communities are incredibly valuable,” she said. “The most important thing is to keep [them] well maintained. What we see happening here is a public agency putting the interests of Shell first. Frankly, that’s unacceptable. Shell is going to reap all the profits while the community takes on the risks.”

The CNSOPB says time limit is reasonable

Stuart Pinks, CEO of the CNSOPB, said precautions in the event of a blowout were considered when they made their decision regarding Shell. The board also considered improvements made since the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010.

“We believe the amount of time that has been concluded in our analysis is as low as reasonably possible,” he said.

Pinks said the low probability of a blowout, all of the suite of tools used in response to a spill, and the activities required prior to the deployment of a stacking cap were considered when the board made the decision on the time limit.

“I think that the regulations that are in place and the regulations that we enforce are very stringent, very robust,” Pinks said.

Speers-Roesch of Greenpeace said a number of groups in Nova Scotia want a stacking cap in the province for a quicker response time to a blowout event.

“Local First Nations, representatives of the fishing industry, and the Ecology Action Centre suggested that as a potential alternative,” Speers-Roesch said.

Pinks said it’s not possible to keep a capping stack in the province.

“If you had one here on stand-by, you would also need the vessel that would be capable of deploying it and that weighs about 100 tons,” he said. “Those vessels are not available in Atlantic Canada, they would have to come from the North Sea or the Gulf of Mexico.”

The vessel that can deploy a capping stack is called a heavy lift construction vessel. They are employed in major offshore construction projects around the world.

“If there was a major construction project in offshore Nova Scotia, you might have one here,” said Pinks. “But there are no major construction projects at the moment. The vessel would pick up the capping stack in Norway and immediately transport it to the site. It takes about 8 or 9 days to get here.”

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