Concerns about what offshore oil and gas exploration and development could do to the islands took centre stage at a consultant’s meeting in Skidegate Thursday evening (Feb. 19).
Tom Pinfold of the Cornerstone Planning Group made a presentation on the study he’s doing for UNBC, but there were so many questions from those attending that he stopped temporarily and let the audience have its say.
“The risks far outweigh the reward. I would hate to see this activity go ahead in any way shape or form,” Gilbert Parnell said. “If you look at the map of the region, we would not benefit with jobs, we would not benefit with support services for that industry, given what happened back east.”
In October, Mr. Parnell was on a UNBC-sponsored fact-finding tour of the offshore industry in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and said those who went were “Â…all quite aghast at what we saw. More questions than answers were a result of that trip.”
“There is a lot of information we need to gather, we need to understand. There is no reason to consider such an activity when those questions cannot be answered,” he said.
Dale Lore, the mayor of Port, was also on the tour. He told the group that he went with an open mind, and found that during the planning stages, local communities there did a very poor job of representing themselves. He says St. Johns, Newfoundland is growing because of offshore development, but there’s no growth elsewhere. “Even if your community got the jobs, they lost the people,” he said, adding “economically, this is not the answer” for small communities.
“We saw the communities did not benefit, the cities did” he said, noting that Ottawa gets 90-percent of oil and gas royalties, while the province gets 10-percent. But most of that 10-percent ends up back in Ottawa because of equalization payments required when a province becomes richer.
He said he found there were too few jobs created to justify the risk development poses. “Huge risk, no benefit with the government we have in power. Need I say more?”, he said. And he said he found it “scary, what was happening back there”, adding “the province wants this, nobody else does. They are as stupid as fenceposts.”
“I think the islands need a united voice on this issue. Oil and gas just scares the bejeezus out of me”, Amanda Reid-Stevens said, “the island community has to get together and speak loudly and quickly to the province and the feds.”
Cathy Rigg said she would like to see a more human and community element in the consultations, not just socio-economic, and John Williams noted that oil from the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska is still polluting beaches 15 years later. “It’s not a question if there is going to be a spill. The question is when,” he said.
Consultant Tom Pinfold added his voice by saying “when the oil company comes to town, they are very focused on what they want. If you don’t want it, you must be equally focused.” He also said “90-percent of the economic benefit (from the offshore in Nova Scotia) occurs in Halifax. It is very concentrated. Chances are it wouldn’t happen on (the islands)”.
He’s just wrapping up his project for UNBC, and expects to submit his report in early March. The study, ongoing for several months, examines the ‘community socio-economic implications of offshore oil and gas’. His group has met with many islanders and mainlanders in the region, and found, among other things, that many people were skeptical that development would create much employment, and felt they were being asked to bear the risks without any clear sense of associated benefits.
The study is one of four the province commissioned from UNBC at a total cost of $2-million. More details are available at www.gardnerpinfold.ca/sei
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