Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for the invitation to appear before the committee this evening. I'll try to jump through my speaking notes which I think all of you have copies of, and try to hit some of the highlights to try to meet the five-minute time commitment.
My name is Stuart Pinks. I'm the chief executive officer for the board. I'm joined by Elizabeth MacDonald, who is an adviser on environmental affairs and a conservation officer with our board. I'm pleased to have the opportunity to communicate our support for Bill S-15.
Sable Island has long been the centre of oil and gas activity in the offshore Nova Scotia area since hydrocarbon exploration began back in the 1960s. To date, all the discoveries and the production that have been made in the Nova Scotia offshore have been within 60 kilometres of Sable Island, and a significant amount of that within 12 kilometres of Sable Island. The coexistence of Sable Island with the oil and gas industry has been going on successfully for quite awhile.
When the board was first advised of the changes in the status of Sable Island in November 2011, the board approached the licence holders in the area who voluntarily agreed to amend the terms and conditions for the five significant discovery licences that encompass or are within one nautical mile of the island. These licences were issued prior to the board being formed and give the rights holders tenure.
These amendments prohibit drilling from the surface of the island or within one nautical mile seaward of the low watermark of the island. We know this prohibition has been ingrained in the proposed legislation that is now before the House.
We understand that the current debate in relation to the proposed legislation has, in part, been centred on the definition of low-impact exploration activity that may be allowed to be carried out within the national park reserve. Our commitment is that once this legislation goes into effect, the board in partnership with Parks Canada intends to develop and publish guidance and interpretation notes addressing this matter.
The development of guidance and interpretation notes is contemplated under the accord acts and they form an important part of our regulatory regime. Public consultation will be a key component of this process.
Experience has shown that when conducted using appropriate equipment, work practices, and mitigation, the type of activities contemplated on the island can be carried out with little or no lasting impact on the environment. These include things like geochemical studies and seismic-type work.
I think the committee is aware that in 1999 a four month low-impact seismic program was carried out successfully on Sable Island by what was then Mobil Oil Canada. The program and the code of practice were carefully observed by Zoe Lucas who lives on the island. Upon completion she concluded that in general the program had only limited and short-term impact on Sable Island.
Upon or prior to receiving an application by an operator to carry out any proposed exploration program for possible authorization, regardless of whether it is on the ocean or on Sable Island, the board would require an environmental assessment up front. In conducting this assessment, public comment periods are provided for. In order for the board to consider the issuance of an authorization, the environmental assessment would have to demonstrate that there would be a low likelihood of significant adverse environmental effects following the implementation of the project-specific mitigation from carrying out the proposed program.
Should work be proposed within the national park reserve, the board will solicit input and advice from Parks Canada among others. The requirement for low-impact exploration would drive consideration of, and potential implementation of, additional mitigation to further minimize or remove any potential environmental effects on all surrounding ecosystem components, including landscape, vegetation, wildlife, and marine life. Each operator would be required to develop and submit for board review and acceptance a code of practice specific to the work to be done on or around the island.
I wanted to speak very briefly to the fact that our board underwent an extensive audit by the federal Auditor General's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. They looked at some 10,000 records generated between our board and the Newfoundland board and other federal parties. The report that was published in February 2003 concluded that the board exercises due diligence when assessing and approving offshore projects and activities; the board takes adequate steps to ensure that operators comply with environmental requirements; and overall, the board manages the current environmental impacts associated with natural gas activities in the Nova Scotia offshore area in a manner consistent with the size and scale of current operations.
Having those types of comments made by the federal Auditor General after an almost two-year review of the activities that our board undertakes was, to me, a huge vote of confidence.
In closing, the board supports the amendments to the Canada National Parks Act designating Sable Island as a national park reserve and the resulting amendments to the accord acts. The amendments to the accord acts reflect board policy that has been in place for many years for exploration licences. The establishment of this reserve is an example of government, industry, and the regulator cooperating to achieve a common goal, the protection of Sable Island.
In summary, I would ask that you consider the following points as you move forward.
One, the board commits to, in partnership with Parks Canada, develop guidance and interpretation notes to give definition to the term “low-impact exploration activities”.
Two, low-impact seismic activity occurred on Sable Island in 1999 and also previously in 1996. There were no significant adverse environmental effects from this program, according to the report that was prepared by Zoe Lucas, who I think is joining us as well.
Three, under the proposed bill, Parks Canada will have to be consulted and their views considered before any low-impact activities occur on Sable Island, which is not the case now. We could authorize those activities today without having to consult with Parks Canada.
Four, an environmental assessment, including a public component, will be required before any low-impact activity can take place on Sable Island.
Five, the federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development recently expressed confidence in the board's execution of its environmental protection mandate.
Thank you again for the opportunity to provide the board's perspective on this matter. I look forward to some of the upcoming questions.