Masset mayor comments after east coast oil tour

  • Nov. 12, 2003 6:00 p.m.

Masset mayor Barry Pages says until now, he had resisted taking a firm position on the offshore oil and gas issue, realizing that he probably didn’t know enough about it. But after returning from a week-long UNBC-sponsored trip to check out the oil and gas industry is on the east coast, his mind is more made up.
“I’m learning a lot,” he told council members at a meeting Monday night (Nov. 10). “And I am not really leaning toward the pro side.”
Mr. Pages travelled with a group of north coast residents to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in late October. They met with community representatives, people who work for the provincial governments, environmental groups, executives from Mobil and Exxon, and fishermen. They also toured a gas plant in Nova Scotia and an oil facility in Newfoundland.
“Basically, I wasn’t too impressed with what the east coast has negotiated with regard to benefits,” he said. “The two capitals… were booming but all the rural communities were basically dying.”
East coasters told the BC group that if oil and gas development goes ahead here, communities should negotiate agreements with the Ottawa and Victoria to share the benefits. These issues will be next to impossible to re-open once the oil and gas moratorium is lifted, Mr. Pages said.
On the east coast, the federal government receives the majority of royalties from offshore oil and gas, and the province receives a small portion, he said.
“Quite frankly, the communities really aren’t getting anything out there and the province is getting ripped off too,” he said.
Mr. Pages also learned a lot about the technical side of the industry, including the drilling process and the muds used and water produced. And he questioned whether oil and gas activity in Hecate Strait can really be called “offshore”. On the east coast, he pointed out, the industry operates 200 miles away from land, in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
“What they’re proposing here, it’s inshore for the Queen Charlotte Islands,” he said. “The water flows and depths are totally different.”
The small communities in both east coast provinces, hard-hit by the collapse of the cod fishery, have not been revived by oil and gas. It appears that the hoped-for jobs have mostly gone to the cities, and the little towns are continuing to die, he said.
“It was quite an eye-opener for me being out there,” Mr. Pages said. “The social and economic benefits outside of St. John’s and Halifax were next to nil.”