HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s premier says he will make the case for allowing offshore development to co-exist with the coastal fishery, when he goes before a federal panel on marine protected areas on Friday.
Stephen McNeil will travel to Moncton, N.B., where he will appear before the National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area Standards.
“We want to make sure that we work with the national government to achieve their objective of looking for marine protected areas,” McNeil said following a cabinet meeting Thursday.
“But it has to be done with a thought that Nova Scotians deserve to maximize the value of the resources off their coast.”
McNeil said projects such as the Sable offshore development off Nova Scotia — which began in 1999 and is winding down — are proof oil and gas exploration can be done safely.
The Sable project included five natural gas fields spread over 200 square kilometres in the North Atlantic near Sable Island, which is now a national park reserve.
The premier said it’s also a matter of protecting jobs and the potential for further employment.
“There are many international companies who believe that we have a resource off our coast that they are out there exploring for today. That means real jobs for Nova Scotians and real economic opportunity for Nova Scotians.”
Last month, Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell also voiced concerns about the possibility of no fish zones along the province’s Eastern Shore, which is the first area along the province’s coast being considered for federal designation as a marine protected area.
Colwell also raised the spectre of a negative impact on jobs in a region of lower employment. He said he wanted Ottawa to know that it has to protect areas in a way that allows fishing that also respects the environment.
There’s been no word from federal officials on whether the protected areas will include no-fish zones.
The panel is holding a series of meetings and is to make an interim presentation to federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc by Aug. 15, and submit a final report to LeBlanc and the Canadian Coast Guard by Sept. 15.
Its task is to provide guidance on the development of protection standards for marine protected areas using guidelines outlined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
McNeil said the province is looking for some clarity on what the rules will be and that’s why the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board announced a 30-day delay Monday on a call for bids for exploration in 2018 in six parcels off the province’s Atlantic coast.
“We believed it was prudent on our part to wait before we go out looking for new bids,” said McNeil. “It’s better for the province to actually make sure that all the ground rules are known before we put it out.”
Last month, the province’s offshore regulator granted BP Canada Energy Group approval to begin drilling off the province’s southeast coast.
The Aspy D-11 exploration well is the first of what could be as many as seven exploration wells over a three-year period.
That decision has raised the ire of several environmental and conservation groups who are concerned about the risk of a spill.