Participants want moratorium, says review panel report

  • Nov. 22, 2004 4:00 p.m.

By Mariah McCooey–The long-awaited federal oil and gas moratorium review panel report says participants in the process are overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the exploration moratorium in place.
The Priddle panel report was released last Friday in Victoria, and while it makes no specific recommendations, the 144-page report provides a cross-section of opinion from participants in the process and a ‘head count’ – which shows that overall, 75-percent of participants want the moratorium kept in place, while 23-percent wish to lift it and allow exploration to take place in the waters surround the Queen Charlottes.
Counting oral presentations, written submissions, ballots and petitions, the views of nearly 3,700 participants were presented to the panel, which held hearings throughout the province last spring, including in Masset and Queen Charlotte
In total, approximately 1,400 people attended the meetings, and 300 made presentations. According to the report, there was near-unanimous consensus that there are significant information gaps regarding bio-physical data and environmental and socio-economic impacts, and that the need to address First Nations’ concerns is of central importance.
Also key among the views of those who wish the moratorium to remain – 75-percent said risks involved in lifting the moratorium would outweigh any potential benefits. Benefits, if any, to local communities that would be at the greatest risk would be minimal – an opinion that was expressed over and over to the panel.
On the other side of the coin, the 23-percent who wanted to lift the moratorium said British Columbians could benefit from revenues, jobs, and economic activity that could result from oil and gas activity, assuming work was done to address environment, safety, and regulatory concerns.
These public meetings were one part of a 3-part process, which included a scientific review (conducted by the Royal Society of Canada) to identify potential science gaps; public review process; and First Nations Engagement process to explore issues of unique interest to First nations.
Meetings were held on the islands last spring. At the Queen Charlotte hearing, 160 people attended, (along with a profusion of signs), and 31 spoke. As well, 143 written ballots were signed and presented at the hearing as formal submissions – every one in favour of keeping the moratorium intact. Major concerns in Queen Charlotte were the unique biological nature of the islands, species of marine life and sea birds, the effects of seismic testing, toxic drilling muds, routine spills, spills during drilling, flaring of gases, effect on industrial lights on migratory birds, noise and other pollution from increased helicopter and boat traffic, risk of major accidents, and climate change from the use of oil and gas. Other concerns included the effect on tourism, other marine industries (fishing) and
“a spiritual and magical cultural dimension to the Queen Charlotte Islands was an aspect of the submissions.”
In a footnote, the panel wrote that they were invited to a feast in Skidegate, but that they felt it would be unfair to attend, since all opinions were supposed to be on transcript.
In the report there are numerous direct quotes from the transcript of the meetings, including this one:
“This is like the third time someone has been here asking what we think. We keep on saying “no” and no one is listeningÂ…” said one presenter in Queen Charlotte.
At the Masset hearing, on April 7, 100 people attended and 27 made presentations. Except for one person, presenters opposed lifting the moratorium.
In conclusion, the report sets out for the government the four options:
o 1 – keep the moratorium (which would be supported by 75 percent of participants)
o 2 – deferring the decision until more research has been done
o 3 – lifting the moratorium, but waiting until significant research has been done before drilling activity commences
o 4 – lifting the moratorium outright.
Although the panel does not recommend any of the options, the conclusion of the panel was that if the government chose to lift the moratorium, there would be considerable opposition from the coastal public.
Meanwhile, numerous groups have been quick to comment on the report. Predictably, the response to the report is in direct proportion to support for the moratorium. While the environmental groups cheer, moratorium ‘lifters’ like Prince Rupert’s mayor Herb Pond say that it’s ‘not a fair report’ since everyone was weighted equally, and elected representatives were not given more of a voice.
The Sierra Club was satisfied that ‘the views of the vast majority of British Columbians have been heard,” and that the report “clearly” shows that the majority want the moratorium to stay put. However, not everyone is as satisfied, including the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, which calls the report a waste of time, energy, and money. The CTF criticized the report for being quantitative and essentially no better than a public opinion poll. Want to see for yourself? Go to www2.nrcan.gc.ca/es/erb/prb/English/View.asp?x=611

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