By Mariah McCooey
There was little risk of the federal oil moratorium review panel misinterpreting the message coming from north island residents – a resounding ‘NO’ was the answer from almost every speaker to the question of whether the moratorium on oil and gas exploration should be lifted. Starting at 9 am on Wednesday (April 7), there were speakers throughout the day expressing their concerns about a variety of issues – scientific gaps, environmental risks, wildlife concerns, potential effects on our fisheries, and economics. The panel heard from 16 speakers.
“There are two crucial reasons why the moratorium should not be lifted,” said Mr. Cheney, the first speaker of the day. “The first reason is the importance of conserving hydrocarbon (oil) resources for future generations, and the second is Canada’s commitment to Kyoto.” Two of society’s main necessities, energy and production, rely on hydrocarbon extraction, he explained, but it’s a false assumption that we have to extract this oil just because it’s there. “The moratorium is a device to ensure that there is oil for future generations,” said Mr. Cheney, “and it’s time to think about leaving some oil in the ground.”
“The conclusions don’t match the findings,” said Mr. Gates, aboutthe Royal Society of Canada report, pointing out several inconsistencies in the report, released in February. Mr. Gates was one of many people who were frustrated by the ‘information gaps’ in the body of the report.
Port Clements resident Jack Miller went out on a limb by neither entirely supporting or in opposing the moratorium. “I simply believe that we cannot adopt a purely reactive stance against development, since our use of hydrocarbons lies at the very base of our industrialized society. It is inconceivable that we or any other nation will forego that use, since doing so would very quickly place us among the poorest of poor nations, or force us into the use of coal, the dirtiest of all cheap energy sources.” Mr. Miller said. “I would like to see alternate sources of energy quickly become economical. However, it appears that such technologies are still well into the future, since as they become more competitive, market forces will then depress the price of oil, rendering the alternatives again barely economic.” Besides, he said, no one knows “how far governments will go to protect the interests of an industry so highly integrated in our economies.” As for exploration here, “If we consume oil and gas, we incur a moral responsibility to see it procured safely, without harm to the environment – otherwise, we simply export our problems elsewhere.” Mr. Miller has been looking at the issues since his initial opposition to exploration 25 years ago. “I believe that exploration and development can be done safely in the Queen Charlotte basin,” he said.
“It’s not all about us,” said Margo Hearne of the Delkatla Sanctuary Society. “If you weigh a bird against a dollar, the bird loses every time.” Coastal BC is a very important breeding area for millions of seabirds, and despite Ms Hearne’s and Canon Peter Hamel’s dedicated work, “their distribution and abundance have not been adequately quantified.” The problems are not just limited to spills, she said, mentioning the list of pollutants in drilling mud – sulfur, barium, strontium, heavy metals, to mention a few. She also said that the effects of the increase in water temperature have not been adequately researched. “We have to think beyond us,” she said, referring to the incompleteness of the Royal Science Report. “If they think that we can ‘go ahead,’ that’s just not true.”
Canon Peter Hamel
Canon Hamel has been studying birds since 1950, and has been keeping detailed notes since 1953. Despite this incredible wealth of knowledge, his information on island seabirds was not included in the final report submitted to the government. “We as locals aren’t looked upon as knowing anything,” he said. “There is a huge gulf between so-called professionals and amateurs.” He spoke in depth about the incredible richness of the ecosystems of the islands and especially Hecate Strait. “Triangle Island alone has about two million breeding seabirds,” he said, “and in Hecate Strait sometimes there is as much as 60,000 krill per cubic metre.” He said an environmental impact assessment claimed it would be all right to have a spill between October and March because there isn’t anything out there, something that really angers Mr. Hamel because he knows the highest concentration of migratory birds occurs in mid-February, and “a spill would be impossible to control.” He estimates that up to 40 million birds could have been wiped out by the Exxon Valdez spill, contrary to the 350,000 estimate that was “just a number agreed upon by lawyers for litigation purposes.”
“By the way,” he said, “I’m opposed to the lifting of the moratorium.”
Ten-year-old Andy Cheney expressed his concerns about our country’s “addiction to oil and gas.”
“Allowing exploration will do nothing to help the planet,” he said, “and this concerns me.” He spoke about the necessity for people to learn how to use oil more efficiently, and to come up with better ways to create energy, such as wind, wave, solar, and hydro.
Lorrie Joron, representing the Village of Masset, stated that their official answer was ‘no’ to the lifting of the moratorium. “We, the village of Masset, are 100 per cent behind the Haida and their claims to the land and the water.” Her main concern was that islanders are being dismissed by the government as a “bunch of hicks on an island,” and therefore not being taken seriously. “There’s just not enough information to proceed,” she said, “and there is no amount of money that can restore these islands once they are lost.”
G.M. Dawson student Andrea Medley brought up the point that we “live on a fault line – there are lots of earthquakes,” and that this increases that risk to the oceans. She also mentioned the historical Haida sites such as Ninstints, that could be threatened. “We all depend on the sea for food or jobs,” she said, “and unlike the seafood, we can’t eat oil.” As for the possible economic benefits, she sees opportunities for only a select few.
“Howa’a to all the young people standing up and voicing their concerns,” said Ms York, “hopefully it won’t be as futile as our previous efforts.” Ms York has been working on the west coast for many years and she said that the “bounty (of the seafood) is becoming limited.” She compared the industrialization of the fisheries to what would probably happen if the big oil companies were to come here. “They take, and take, and take, and take,” she said. “The benefits are tremendous, but they have nothing to do with us.”
“I do not want the moratorium to be lifted. Not now, not ever. Never,” said Jonathan Ebbs. “In the past our voice was not heard,” he said. “What is oil but a manifestation of greed, power, and corruption? And what are we but the obstacles?” He pointed out that the Haida lived here in harmony with all the resources for over 10,000 years, and in the last 100 years these resources have been seriously depleted or destroyed.
Mr. Litrell pointed out the hypocrisy of the government’s simultaneous plans to create a marine protected area around Gwaii Haanas and their plans to exploit the resources of Hecate Strait. “I support a permanent moratorium on oil and gas exploration,” he said.
“I have a statement,” said Jenn Wilson. “My statement is NO to lifting the moratorium on oil and gas on BC’s coast. I’d also like to add that I don’t want any seismic testing.”
“The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones. The petroleum age will not end because we ran out of petroleum.”
Debbie Beemer owns a seafood processing plant in Masset and is concerned about the fate of coastal fisheries if offshore oil exploration were to go ahead. “This is one of the last areas with wild pacific salmon,” she said, “and with all this bird flu, mad cow disease, and toxic farmed fish, it’s pretty much the only safe meat source left.”
Maureen LaCroix introduced herself to the panel in Haida and then went on to say that “these islands need to stay the way they are. We oppose any destruction to the natural environment.” She said that she thinks often of her father who was committed to preserving the natural state of Haida Gwaii. “These islands have gone through so much damage. First for gold, then trees, and fishÂ… keep this offshore oil away.”
“I had to speak,” said Maureen Samuels, “because my children wanted me to speak. Give them half a chance to go to the beachÂ… to go to Tow Hill and not be afraid of what they might see.”
“The moratorium will not be lifted,” she said confidently, “not in my time, not in my children’s time, not in my children’s children’s time. Because I have faith.”
If you missed the sessions, a written opinion can be submitted before May 15 to the public review panel. More information on how to do this is available at www.moratoriumpublicreview.ca
The three panel members, Diana Valiela, Roland Priddle, and Don Scott, will be traveling to Port Simpson, Prince Rupert, Kitkatla, Kitimat, Bella Coola, Alert Bay, Port Hardy, Vancouver, and finally Victoria before they report back to the federal government.