Environmentalists whale on petroleum exploration in Gulf

Blue Whale Campaign aims to raise awareness of the importance of Gulf of St. Lawrence to largest mammals

Published on July 16, 2014

Local Environmentalist Mary Gorman of Merigomish is calling for a moratorium on petroleum exploration and drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and she’s hoping a big animal ally will aid her cause.

The Blue Whale Campaign is raising funds to for a public awareness campaign to bring the endangered Gulf species into the discussion.

"In my opinion, the Gulf contains critical habitat for the endangered blue whale even though it has not yet been identified," said Gorman with the Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition.

While $145 has been raised to date, organizers are hoping to raise $10,000 by Aug. 20 to hire two part-time organizers to lobby the public and Atlantic provincial governements towards a moratorium.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans noted that commercial whaling historically carried out in the Atlantic reduced the population by about 70 per cent. While the total number of blue whales in the Northwest Atlantic population is unknown, it is estimated that it does not exceed 250 adults.

The campaign argues that the whales’ critical habitat in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has yet to be formally identified – a dilemma in the face of a potential opening of its vital feeding and breeding grounds to offshore fossil fuel development.

“If successful in its search for fossil fuels, Corridor Resources will open the door to other offshore projects in the region,” reads a news release from the Blue Whale Campaign. “Besides potential oil spills, these projects threaten the blue whale with extensive seismic testing, collisions with oil tankers and destruction of food stocks.”

A 713-page report released in March from the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) noted that while the western region was ecologically significance, petroleum activities could be undertaken. 

Sean Kelly, manager of public relations for the C-NLOPB, noted there has been great interest in the scope of the environmental assessment.

“We received a lot of comments about offshore drilling in this area,” he said. “This isn’t surprising, considering the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. There was a gulf region that was affected by petroleum activites.”

He noted that the C-NLOB conducted a broad review of the environmental factors that provide a high level of information.

“Approval is given with conditions and the report helps to formulate those conditions,” said Kelly. “You may proceed provided you can mitigate these things to our satisfaction. If the company can’t meet those conditions, they can’t proceed.

Corridor Resources Inc., an eastern Canadian resource company, acquired licences to explore for oil and gas at Old Harry, an undersea area in the Gulf of St. Lawrence back in 1996. They believe the area has the potential to contain significant volumes of hydrocarbon resources and aim to begin exploration this year. 

Still, Blue Whale Campaign organizers Zack Metcalfe and Colin Jeffrey plan to bring public awareness to the dangers posed by fossil fuel development in the gulf.

"With a population so small, the slightest misstep at Old Harry could spell the end of the blue whale," said Metcalfe, a journalist volunteering full time with the Sierra Club Atlantic.

"The more you know about our incredible Gulf of St Lawrence, the harder you will work to protect it," said Jeffrey, a graduate of Dalhousie University's Master of Resource and Environmental Management program.

For more info on their campaign, visit bluewhale.causevox.com.