BP blowout a wake-up call for Quebec
By MONIQUE BEAUDIN
Eight months after British Petroleum’s well burst in the Gulf of Mexico, repercussions from the environmental disaster are still being felt -in Quebec.
The April 20 explosion off the Louisiana coast killed 11 people and led to the largest marine spill ever. An estimated five million barrels of oil leaked into the gulf, seeping into sensitive wetlands, washing up onto beaches, and shutting down parts of the coastal fisheries.
The world saw images of an oil slick on top of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, cleanup operations that sent clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky, and animal-rehabilitation organizations cleaning up oil-covered pelicans and other birds.
The BP spill came as Quebec was beginning its own foray into fossil-fuel exploration. This year, exploratory oil drilling was done on Anticosti Island, companies drilled for shale naturalgassouthof theSt. Lawrence River, and Quebec said it wanted to begin exploring the Old Harry oil and gas deposit about 80 kilometres from the Iles de la Madeleine.
Opponents to shale-gas drilling held loud demonstrations and disrupted public meetings this fall, while people living along the shorelines of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the Iles de la Madeleine are demanding a moratorium on offshore drilling. The spectre of the BP oil spill was raised in both cases.
“The spill in the Gulf of Mexico has helped raise awareness and open people’s minds to this issue,” said Jean-Patrick Toussaint, an environmental scientist at the David Suzuki Foundation.
“People suddenly realized this could happen here and are we ready for that?”
In the wake of the oil spill, his organization and three others formed the St. Lawrence Coalition, a group pressuring Quebec for a moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. An oil spill simulation created by the David Suzuki Foundation showed the impact a 10,000-barrel per day spill on the coastlines of Quebec and the four Atlantic provinces. Depending on the season, oil could wash up on the shores of each of the five provinces, the simulation shows.
“The Gulf of St. Lawrence is six times smaller than the Gulf of Mexico, so even a small spill could have huge consequences,” Toussaint said. “All five provinces surrounding the gulf depend on fisheries and tourism for their economies.”
In September, after an in-depth environment study and pressure from citizens and environmental groups, Quebec Natural Resource Minister Nathalie Normandeau announced that the ecosystems of the St. LawrenceRiver’ s estuary, from Ile d’Orleans east to Anticosti Island, as well as the northern part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, were too sensitive to allow any more drilling.
“Our government has always maintained that exploration of development of fossil fuels in a marine environment had to be done in a perspective of sustainable development and should not be done at any price,” she said.
Toussaint said he believes Quebec has heard the concerns of citizens and environmental groups like his who feel they weren’t consulted enough about shale gas or offshore drilling.
“I think they have heard, but the question is whether or not they will do something about it,” he said.
“It’s one thing to be independent in terms of energy, but we also have to ask at what cost?”