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12 Nova Scotia municipalities call for public inquiry into the impact of offshore drilling and exploration

David Devenne, mayor of Mahone Bay and a representative of one of 12 Nova Scotia municipalities that are calling on the federal government to launch a public inquiry into the impacts of offshore drilling and exploration, speaks at a news conference in Halifax on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Beside him is Linda Gregory, deputy warden of Digby County.
David Devenne, mayor of Mahone Bay and a representative of one of 12 Nova Scotia municipalities that are calling on the federal government to launch a public inquiry into the impacts of offshore drilling and exploration, speaks at a news conference in Halifax on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Beside him is Linda Gregory, deputy warden of Digby County. - Francis Campbell
HALIFAX, N.S. —

You can’t eat oil and you can’t eat money.

That’s the way David Devenne, mayor of Mahone Bay, summarized the push by 12 southwestern Nova Scotia municipalities for a public inquiry into the impacts of offshore drilling and exploration.

“You can eat the fish, you can eat the lobster, you can eat the things that grow on the land that abuts the ocean,” Devenne said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon in downtown Halifax.

“The economy of our town, once driven by wooden shipbuilding, is now driven by the tourism industry,” Devenne said. “The ocean is a critical part of that industry. More importantly it’s a critical part of the quality of life for the residents of Mahone Bay and the thousands of summer residents and tourists who come to the town to celebrate the beaches, the ocean and the natural beauty of our area. Any risk to that mainstay of our economy is an unacceptable possibility and offshore drilling is just such a risk.”

Devenne said Mahone Bay town council called on the federal government in July 2015 to impose a moratorium on drilling and to call an inquiry into how drilling entitlements are passed on to offshore drilling companies. 

“The response to that request for public consultation and a review of the leasing process is still outstanding despite the grassroots input,” Devenne said.

Linda Gregory, the deputy warden of the municipality of Digby County, said the request of the federal government is for a public inquiry on the industry and a moratorium on offshore drilling until the inquiry is completed.

“Our concern in Digby is our fisheries,” said Gregory, identifying herself as a fisherman’s daughter, a fisherman’s wife, a fisherman’s sister, mother, niece, cousin and friend. “Our area has been built on the fisheries, especially scallops and lobster. Without it, we would be nowhere, there would be nothing left for us.”

Gregory said fish exports in Nova Scotia mean $2 billion a year for the economy, providing more than 50,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“These jobs sustain our communities now, as they have for centuries,” she said.

The production platform for Encana Corporation’s Deep Panuke natural gas project was located on Nova Scotia’s offshore.
The production platform for Encana Corporation’s Deep Panuke natural gas project was located on Nova Scotia’s offshore.

Gregory said an inquiry is necessary because citizens and municipal governments need answers to many questions about the impacts of exploration on the fisheries and on the coastal communities.

The other 10 municipalities that have signed on are Argyle, Chester, the Districts of Barrington and Lunenburg, the counties of Annapolis, Shelburne and Clare and the towns of Shelburne, Lunenburg and Bridgewater. 

In Halifax for the Federation of Nova Scotia Municipalities, Devenne and Gregory said the declaration would have more impact if more of the province’s 50 municipalities had signed on to the call for an offshore inquiry but they conceded that the issue is more important in their end of the province. Although not included on the conference agenda, the issue will be discussed when the municipalities caucus, Gregory said. She said the initiative from 12 municipalities should be a signal to the province to take up the cause.

Gretchen Fitzgerald, national program director of the Sierra Club, moderated the news conference. The Sierra Club is part of the 22-member Offshore Alliance, a coalition of fishing, social justice and environmental organizations, communities and individuals who are concerned about offshore drilling in the province.

Fitzgerald said despite a lull in offshore activity, the province is still trying to promote offshore business.

“It’s definitely not a closed door on this industry,” she said.

Fitzgerald said government is facilitating exploration by deregulating it, giving more power to offshore oil and gas boards.  

Gregory said she’s not against drilling or exploration, “but I need to know it’s being done in an environmentally safe way.”

Devenne said there is always potential for things to go awry in offshore exploration or production mode. 

“I haven’t yet seen an oil platform or a drilling accident that anyone said that’s sort of what we thought was going to happen and what we intended to happen,” Devenne said. 

He said if there is an oil well blowout off the shore of Nova Scotia, it would take two weeks to bring in the gear from Scotland just to cap it. 

“You can imagine if you have a good blowout what kind of mess it’s going to make.”
 

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