Evidence of meeting #82 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was parks.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Leonard Preyra  Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage, Government of Nova Scotia
Stuart Pinks  Chief Executive Officer, Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board
Andrew Barry  President, ExxonMobil Canada Ltd.
Alison Woodley  National Conservation Director, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
Mark Butler  Policy Director, Ecology Action Centre
Zoe Lucas  As an Individual
Elizabeth MacDonald  Advisor, Environmental Affairs, Conservation Officer, Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board
Chris Miller  Conservation Biologist, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
David-Andrés Novoa  Procedural Clerk

7 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

I'd like to call the meeting of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development to order. We're in meeting number 82.

Prior to introducing our witnesses, I have something I would like to read, which I understand has been worked out with all parties:That, notwithstanding the decision made by the Committee on June 13, 2013, the Committee move immediately to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill S-15, An Act to amend the Canada National Parks Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, following the witness testimony on Monday, June 17, 2013.

Are all in agreement with that? I understand we're in agreement to move directly into clause-by-clause study after the witnesses are finished.

Thank you very much.

We will move now to our witnesses. We have seven witnesses tonight. Three of them are joining us by teleconference.

To save a bit of time, I'm not going to mention all of them now. I'm going to go in the order that's listed on the orders of the day. If you don't have a copy, we can get a copy to you.

We'll begin with the Government of Nova Scotia, the Honourable Leonard Preyra, Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage.

I have asked our witnesses as much as possible to try to limit their opening statements to between five and seven minutes to give us more time for questions from members; however, I will be a little flexible there, so we'll move ahead with that understanding.

Honourable Leonard Preyra, would you begin your statement, please.

7 p.m.

Leonard Preyra Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage, Government of Nova Scotia

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Members of the committee, good evening, bonsoir. It's a pleasure and an honour to be here today to mark another significant step in the process to designate Sable Island as Canada's 43rd national park reserve.

As you are aware, on October 17, 2011 Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, along with Peter Kent, the minister responsible for Parks Canada, signed a landmark agreement to make Sable Island a national park reserve. I too signed that agreement as a witness that day.

That historic memorandum has helped secure a future of greater protection for this unique island. This agreement holds significance for all Canadians, for Nova Scotians and members of my constituency. I shouldn't say “my constituency”. The Honourable Megan Leslie is here too. It's our constituency. We all have it. We're very possessive about it.

In particular it's especially meaningful to members of our constituency. It commits Canada and the Province of Nova Scotia to protecting Sable Island for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone both now and for future generations. It is about conservation and stewardship.

This legislation will put into law significant benefits for Sable Island, its habitat and the unique flora and fauna living there. That is the reason I am here today endorsing this bill on behalf of the Government of Nova Scotia. This bill protects Sable Island under the National Parks Act, the strongest federal conservation legislation available.

It will legislate for the first time a ban on exploratory and extractive drilling for petroleum resources from the surface of Sable Island. This will install a judicial buffer around Sable Island that prohibits drilling from its low-water boundary out to one nautical mile. This bill will put in place a legislative requirement for the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board to consult with Parks Canada should it want to issue a permit for activity on Sable Island.

The bill will also protect the asserted aboriginal rights and title by the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia by designating it as a national park reserve.

Sable Island holds a special place in the hearts of Nova Scotians and Canadians across the country. In our constituency in particular people have long voiced their fondness for Sable Island and have come out in support of the legislation to make the island a national park.

Mr. Chair, I can wax lyrical about Sable Island. All of you have heard presentations from Canadians, but I'm not going to do that. With that, I'm going to cut out pages 5 and 6 of my presentation at your request, but if it's possible, I'd like to have them in the record as read.

7 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

You still have a lot of time left if you care to use it.

7 p.m.

Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage, Government of Nova Scotia

Leonard Preyra

Oh, no, I'm not ending here. I'm just cutting out pages 5 and 6.

7 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

I'm sorry, once you stop in this committee, you're done.

7 p.m.


Oh, oh!

7 p.m.

Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage, Government of Nova Scotia

Leonard Preyra

I always thank people who ask questions about this legislation. I was talking with Ms. Rempel earlier about how great the questions have been and how non-partisan they've been. The direction of the questions is really all about protecting Sable Island. It's a very heartening process. It's a very encouraging process. I want to thank you and the committee for conducting this meeting and these hearings in that fashion. It really underlines the respect and fondness that we all have for Sable Island.

Being designated as a national park has a number of advantages. It will guarantee a number of important protections and regulations for the island. It will help ensure that the beautiful wild and fragile island will remain as it should be for generations to come. This legislation will protect Sable Island as it deserves to be protected and as how so many people who care for the island want it to be protected.

Designating this national preserve was a truly joint effort. Working collaboratively with our federal partners and other stakeholders, the team first evaluated which protection legislation would work best to legally protect Sable Island for the future. The assumption has always been and continues to be, Mr. Chair, that the status quo is not sustainable, that in a world where the coast guard is changing its role and where lighthouses are not as necessary, the status quo is just not sustainable. In fact, the law as it stands is a bit of an anachronism.

It became abundantly clear that the best choice was to advance Sable Island for designation as part of the national parks system. Through the federal-provincial agreement, we began pursuing this plan. We then worked on the best way forward while considering various interests, including offshore petroleum resources. With that in mind, both the provincial and federal governments agreed to present legislation to prohibit drilling on the surface of Sable and out one nautical mile.

The legislation will provide protection for the island while allowing access to the island for activities such as the emergency evacuation of offshore workers and for low-impact petroleum exploration activities. These activities and any such activities will require adherence to a code of practice for the protection of the island and will be regulated by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board in consultation with Parks Canada.

We have the utmost confidence in our partners' ability to serve as regulators for this code of practice. After three decades, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board has developed a great deal of experience in this area, and Parks Canada is well versed in the environmental protection, conservation, and stewardship needed to ensure the island is safe and secure both now and in years to come. Parks Canada has been a committed partner in this process, and the consultation itself was a vote of confidence in Parks Canada and its ability to manage this heavy responsibility.

Once this legislation is enshrined in law, Sable Island's surface will never again be drilled. The petroleum companies strongly support this measure and volunteered to amend their discovery licences to follow this provision. These licences have now been amended and were approved by the federal and provincial ministers.

We strongly support the development of a memorandum of understanding between Parks Canada and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board to develop a protocol for low-impact petroleum activities and the way they may or may not be conducted on Sable Island. We are committed to this process and the public consultation that will help shape and support the memorandum of understanding.

Public consultation is a key part of the shared responsibility. Those of us who have been involved in Sable Island for a number of years now know that the public cares passionately about Sable Island, and any time you have public consultation, you will have a very open, transparent, and vigorous process.

We have been engage along with Parks Canada in consultation with Mi'kmaq representatives on the creation of the national park reserve. We are pleased that there has been progress towards an agreement that would see the Mi'kmaq undertake research on and about Sable to help us and them learn more about their ancestors' possible linkages to the island.

Along with the Mi'kmaq, we are truly working together—the provincial government, the federal government, and business—to ensure that the significant cultural heritage and ecological value of Sable Island are understood and maintained. The amendments to the accord act are another step in the process towards completing the designation of Sable Island as Canada's 43rd national park.

The Nova Scotia House of Assembly passed mirror legislation to this effect. Nova Scotia will continue to carry out this important work on Sable Island, such as scientific research and environmental, climate change, weather, and air monitoring. We have made a continuing commitment to stay involved and engaged.

Nova Scotia will provide advice on the ongoing management of the island through the Canada-Nova Scotia offshore committee. We will continue to provide input on a number of topics.

I would like to thank and commend Parks Canada for their consultative approach to the establishment of Sable Island as a national park reserve and for an ongoing commitment to stakeholder inclusion. We look forward to further discussions with Parks Canada as they move forward with the management planning and in the actual ongoing management of this unique site. Sable Island is part of Nova Scotia's and Canada's history, and as part of the national parks system, it will be a special part of the future.

I would like to thank Minister Kent; Minister MacKay; Minister Parker, the Minister of Energy and Minister of Natural Resources; Harold Carroll; a number of other people who've been involved; and all our hard-working staff who have been involved in this process.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak here. I look forward to the discussion.

7:10 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you for being understanding of our time constraints. I appreciate that very much.

7:10 p.m.

Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage, Government of Nova Scotia

Leonard Preyra

I just barely got it in.

7:10 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Well, you were a little over, but that was partly my fault. I'll take responsibility for that.

We'll move now to Mr. Stuart Pinks, CEO of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board.

Mr. Pinks.

7:10 p.m.

Stuart Pinks Chief Executive Officer, Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board

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.

7:15 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you, Mr. Pinks. You're right on seven minutes, right on the button.

We're going to move now to ExxonMobil Canada and its president, Andrew Barry.

Mr. Barry.

7:15 p.m.

Andrew Barry President, ExxonMobil Canada Ltd.

Thank you very much for this opportunity. I'm going to try to skip through this presentation to meet my seven-minute time schedule, but you have copies that you can read, as required.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, ExxonMobil Canada is a leading developer of petroleum resources off Canada’s east coast, with offices in Halifax and St. John’s. ExxonMobil also has a presence in Canada through our majority ownership of Imperial Oil, with whom we share many process systems and technologies.

In Nova Scotia we operate the Sable offshore energy project, which is located more than 200 kilometres off the coast. There we produce natural gas from several platforms located in shallow waters and spread across several hundred square kilometres in the vicinity of Sable Island. Our co-venturers are Shell, Imperial Oil, Pengrowth Energy, and Mosbacher Operating Ltd.

The Sable project introduced a new source of clean energy to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and enabled the development of pipeline infrastructure that now connects these provinces to the North American natural gas market. The pipeline infrastructure has also allowed the development of subsequent fields, such as in Encana's Deep Panuke project, which is scheduled to start up production soon.

Total Sable project spending by year-end 2012 was $6.5 billion, including approximately $2.5 billion in Nova Scotia. Benefits from the Sable project include direct and indirect employment, spending on goods and services, funding of research and development, as well as education and training, contributions to local community organizations, and the payment of municipal, provincial, and federal taxes. In addition, the Sable project’s co-venturers pay offshore royalties. To date, the province reports that it has received more than $1.7 billion in royalties from the Sable project.

Sable Island has been extremely important to our work in Nova Scotia and to our ability to safely deliver these benefits. For us, with our production facilities nearby, the island is a valuable safe refuge. It gives our standby vessels shelter from storms, and we know our helicopters can land there in case of an emergency.

Going back to the start-up of natural gas production in 1999 and exploration work that dates back 40 years, we feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with stakeholders, including experts like Zoe Lucas, to help protect the island. We are proud that the Sable project is an example of how the oil and gas industry can coexist with a sensitive ecosystem and even enhance its protection.

We've provided funding for scientific research about seabirds and marine mammals and about the flora and fauna that call Sable Island their home, including the island's famous wild horses. This research includes a nesting bird census and a long-term survey of beached birds; a study of plants and invertebrate communities on the island; research on lichens, which are extremely sensitive to environmental changes and very good indicators of the island's health; and atmospheric research, including airshed monitoring and the study of tropospheric ozone. We've also helped with beach cleanups and other projects to restore terrain and dunes that have been disturbed in the past.

In 2011 we were pleased to collaborate when asked by our regulator on behalf of the provincial and federal governments to make amendments to our licences that would further codify a protected one nautical mile buffer around the island. We worked with the other industry interest holders to amend the relevant licences and provide the island with this additional protection.

For us the proposed park designation not only ensures that Sable Island will be protected for future generations, but also recognizes the importance of oil and gas activity in the area near the island.

Much has been made of the provisions in the bill that allow directional drilling below the island and also low-impact seismic activity on the island. Please allow me to clarify that ExxonMobil has no plans for additional drilling on licences near to Sable Island. In 2010 we said publicly that we would market our licences in the area to other parties that may have interest in their development. To date this has not been successful.

That being said, we firmly believe these activities can be carried out in ways that do not negatively affect the environment. While we do not have plans for these activities, we cannot speak for other interest holders and their view of the future.

We believe that in designating Sable Island as a park the public interest in potential future development of petroleum resources need not be compromised. The same is true for the private sector's interest in this development.

We believe that our record is proof that the industry can work in harmony with this special ecosystem, and that it would be short-sighted to foreclose potential future economic development with prohibitions which, in the end, add no meaningful added protection to this island.

We believe both the provincial and federal governments recognized this balance by approaching us with the idea of amending the licences to prevent drilling on the island surface, which were already part of our code of practice.

We are pleased to support this extra measure of protection, and we are delighted to be part of the practical plan to ensure that Sable Island will be protected for future generations of Nova Scotians and Canadians.

Thank you.

7:20 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you very much, Mr. Barry.

We'll move now to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. We have in person with us, Alison Woodley, the national conservation director. I understand Chris Miller, the conservation biologist, is with us by way of teleconference.

Alison, I believe you'll begin with the opening statement. Please proceed.

7:20 p.m.

Alison Woodley National Conservation Director, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Good evening. My name is Alison Woodley and I am the national director of the parks program for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, or CPAWS.

As Mr. Chairman mentioned, also joining us this evening from Nova Scotia is Dr. Chris Miller, who is CPAWS' national conservation biologist. Chris has been leading our work on Sable Island.

Thank you to the members of the committee for having invited us to participate in this meeting to present our thoughts on Bill S-15.

CPAWS is Canada's voice for parks and public wilderness protection. For 50 years we've played a key role in the establishment of Canada's protected areas, including many of our national parks. We've been following the various debates on Bill S-15 quite closely in both Ottawa and in Nova Scotia.

We're pleased to hear what appears to be overwhelming support for protecting Sable Island which, as everyone knows, is a very interesting and unique piece of Canada. Like the other witnesses, rather than reiterate all the reasons why Sable Island is so special and deserves our highest level of protection, which has been discussed very well, including during our testimony at the Senate committee, we'll cut to the chase on what we feel are the key issues.

CPAWS is strongly supportive of a national park designation for Sable Island. In fact, we first proposed this as an option for protecting Sable way back in 1971, so we're very pleased that the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia are taking the steps required to make the national park a reality.

The national park designation is a big improvement over the status quo and will result in much stronger habitat protection for the flora and fauna of the island. Parks Canada has a requirement to manage national parks for ecological integrity as a first priority and must develop a management plan that addresses this. The previous management structure for Sable Island using outdated regulations in the Shipping Act is not tenable over the long term and doesn't offer the sorts of ecosystem protections that many Canadians expect of this important location.

CPAWS is very concerned about the prospect of oil and gas exploration being allowed to occur on Sable Island. The ocean all around Sable Island is available for industry and we feel that the sliver of sand that is Sable Island should be left free from any such industrial activity. Specifically on the issue of allowing low-impact oil exploration, driving thumper trucks onto the beaches at Sable, stringing lines across the island, and digging listening devices into the sand, as has been described, are not what we would consider to be low-impact activities, nor are they appropriate activities in a national park, which should be off limits to all oil and gas exploration and development activities. We also believe they run counter to what most people want for Sable Island, which is simply for it to be left alone as much as possible and to remain this wild and free place that so many Canadians cherish.

For these reasons we are requesting that the clauses of Bill S-15 that would allow for oil and gas exploration activities to occur on Sable Island be removed. In summary, CPAWS is strongly supportive of a national park for Sable Island. We want this legislation to move forward, and we are requesting amendments to strengthen protection of the island from oil and gas activities.

I would also like to share some brief comments on clause 15 of the bill, which includes the proposed change to the leasehold boundary of the Marmot Basin ski area in Jasper National Park. We do not have a specific amendment to put forward here, but I do want to highlight that in exchange for the reduction in the leasehold area of the Marmot Basin ski area, there are new development proposals being considered that could have a significant impact on wildlife in the park, including on caribou which are identified as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act.

For new development to be considered outside the current footprint of a ski area, Parks Canada policy requires the operator to demonstrate that there will be a substantial environmental gain from the overall plan. This net gain is not achieved by the redrawing of the leasehold boundary, but rather by the overall impact of developments and activities on wildlife and ecosystems, both inside and outside the current footprint and the leasehold areas. The developments and activities determine whether there's a substantial environmental gain.

In the case of Marmot Basin, CPAWS is particularly concerned about Jasper's woodland caribou, which have dropped to critically low numbers and are at risk of disappearing entirely from the park. There is a study under way to better understand the importance of the Marmot area to caribou and other wildlife, and given the precarious state of this species, no development that could potentially result in any further risk to caribou in the park should be allowed to proceed. As final decisions are made about developments at Marmot Basin in Jasper, we will be looking to Parks Canada to uphold its responsibility to put ecological integrity first in its decision-making.

Thank you again for the opportunity to present today on behalf of CPAWS. We will be pleased to answer any questions.

7:25 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you very much, Ms. Woodley.

We'll move now to teleconference with Ecology Action Centre. Mark Butler is the policy director.

Mr. Butler, please proceed.

7:25 p.m.

Mark Butler Policy Director, Ecology Action Centre

Thank you for this opportunity. My presentation will be under five minutes.

The Ecology Action Centre has been actively involved in protecting Sable Island for over a decade. We've been a member of the government-led Sable Island stakeholder advisory committee for many years. We held our first event in 2004, in association with Zoe Lucas and the Sable Island Green Horse Society. Every year since we have held an annual update that attracts over 300 people, a testament to the ongoing interest in the island and its protection.

We first became involved because there was good chance the federal government would close the Sable Island station. The Ecology Action Centre, along with many other groups and citizens, strongly made the case that the island required a year-round human presence. Luckily and eventually the federal government agreed and committed to maintaining a year-round human presence on the island.

The Ecology Action Centre, along with the Green Horse Society and CPAWS, was supportive of Sable Island becoming a national park when first proposed in 2010. We have maintained that support over the last three years.

Despite significant public concern that by making Sable Island a national park Canadians might love it to death through increased visitation and supporting infrastructure, the EAC has seen the designation as the best possible outcome for the island.

We supported park designation for a number of reasons, including the expectation that the designation would result in the exclusion of oil and gas activities from the island.

In the summer of 2011, the EAC participated in Parks Canada's consultation on the island as a national park. We made the following comment regarding oil and gas activity: The EAC opposes oil and gas activities on Sable Island including seismic. We would encourage licence holders to relinquish any existing licences on Sable Island. In addition, oil and gas activities should be kept as far away as possible from Sable Island both to reduce the impacts of pollution on the Island and to protect the integrity of the visitor experience. The federal and provincial government should expand the current 1 nautical mile exclusion zone and put it into law. Parks Canada should not make any arrangement regarding sub-surface petroleum rights for Sable Island which would set a bad precedent for other national parks in Canada.

Consequently, we are disappointed to see that with this legislation, drilling under the island is still permitted, the exclusion zone has not been expanded, and—we hadn't expected this—exploration is allowed on the island.

There are effectively no new protections for Sable Island from oil and gas activity. We appreciate that the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board guidelines around surface drilling and the one nautical mile exclusion zone are now being enshrined in legislation. However, in practice most of us realize that it would be highly unlikely for any oil company to propose drilling on Sable itself, or in the surf and shallow water immediately adjacent to the island, or to do high-impact seismic on the island. Because of the shape of the island, which is long and narrow like a banana, a drill rig one nautical mile from the island will feel like it's on top of the island.

In terms of impacts, our main concerns are flaring, light and noise, produced water, and small spills. If there is a large spill, it probably won't matter whether the rig is one or five nautical miles away. We're happy to elaborate on these concerns.

We are opposed to the proposed amendments in the current form because of the ecological risk to the island and the precedent they set for other national parks, if not in legislation, in the public's mind.

We are also worried that this decision erodes the public's confidence in Nova Scotia's and the federal government's resolve to stand up for Sable Island on other matters, such as tourism. We note that both governments have received considerable praise for their decision to protect the island. At EAC we were happy to add our voices to that praise.

We also like to think that the government is also willing to take tough decisions on behalf of the island. We have followed some of the deliberations in Parliament. We are distressed that MPs and senators are in a position of having to choose between a park that permits oil and gas activities in its boundaries or delaying the establishment of a national park. It is an unfortunate choice, and one which we think could have been avoided.

There is a tremendous amount of goodwill within government and industry when it comes to Sable Island. Of course, the level of public interest and support for the island never ceases to amaze.

Because we weren't part of the discussions, we can only surmise, but we feel that both the federal and provincial governments missed an opportunity to bring all the players together to hammer out a deal that puts the best interests of the island first.

As far as we know, the oil companies were never explicitly asked not to do low-impact seismic on the island, or not to do directional drilling under the island. They agreed to what they were asked to do by the government.

If for whatever reason there is an opportunity to improve on this legislation, we would encourage that there be frank and inclusive discussions about how to meet the interests of the licence holders, while keeping oil and gas activities out of the park.

Thank you for your time and your work to protect Sable Island.

7:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you very much, Mr. Butler.

We will move now to Zoe Lucas, from Nova Scotia, from Sable Island.

Welcome, Zoe.

7:35 p.m.

Zoe Lucas As an Individual

Hello. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the committee.

I began working on Sable Island in 1974, and since the mid-1980s I've spent eight to eleven months on the island each year.

My work has included dune restoration studies, studies of seals and horses, biodiversity surveys, and environmental monitoring.

Among the environmental monitoring projects that I conduct is a long-term beached oiled seabird survey conducted for the offshore energy industry as part of its environmental effects monitoring program. This ongoing survey, done once every four to six weeks since 1993—

7:35 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Excuse me for just one minute. Apparently we're having difficulty with translation.

7:35 p.m.

As an Individual

Zoe Lucas

Okay, do you want to go to just asking any questions?

7:35 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Just one moment. We're checking to see if they have it. We believe they have it, but maybe haven't located it.

We were warned that the quality of the sound might not be great, so we're struggling with that. If you would just give us a minute or two, we'll see if we can resolve it.

We're going to try again, Ms. Lucas. Perhaps you could speak a little more slowly. We're going to see if our translators can pick up the quality of the sound, so proceed again, please. I'm sorry about the interruption.

7:35 p.m.

As an Individual

Zoe Lucas

Should I start from the beginning?

7:35 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

No, just carry on from where you were.

7:35 p.m.

As an Individual

Zoe Lucas

In the mid-1990s, I became involved in the campaign to address the long-term problem of securing government commitment for support of the Sable Island station. This involved working with the Ecology Action Centre and Mark Butler.

To ensure environmental protection and conservation of Sable's natural values, a continuous human presence on the island is essential. There has been a government station on Sable since 1801, but for the first 150 years, the primary role of the station was to maintain aids to navigation and life-saving. The development of various technologies such as radar enabled ships to avoid the island. By the mid-1900s, the island's role as a hazard to navigation was greatly reduced.

The Meteorological Service of Canada has been collecting weather data on Sable since 1871. Increasing scientific interest in the island generated awareness of its unique natural values and concerns about conservation and protection. Requests from tourists, media groups, as well as researchers to visit Sable have steadily increased.

By the mid-1990s, it was clear that the Canada Shipping Act was no longer a good fit for management of the island. This, combined with budget cuts during program review, resulted in a decade of serious uncertainty about the future of the island.

The announcement that the Government of Canada would consider national park status for Sable Island is great news. This status offers the highest level of protection and conservation available in Canada.

Given the unique history and issues of the Sable Island situation, the very grave concerns about the island's future, and the four decades of experience with the offshore energy industry in this region, this makes for a stable solution that will work well for the island. The expertise, mandate, and resources of Parks Canada will provide a high level of long-term and continuous protection for Sable Island. Advice provided to the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board by Parks Canada will greatly increase the depth and breadth of the board's understanding of Sable's environmental and biodiversity issues.

I support passage of Bill S-15 as is. Concerns arising from the amendment allowing for limited offshore energy activities can be addressed following the establishment of the Sable Island national park reserve. These concerns will most certainly be a consideration in the development of the Parks Canada management policy, and the guidance and interpretation on low-impact industry activities on the island will certainly improve that situation.

I've skipped over some of the things I was going to say, just to keep it short, and given the poor quality of the line, I'll leave it at that. Thank you very much.