Oil and gas drilling ban on rich fishing grounds off N.S. extended to 2032

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The ban on oil and gas development on Georges Bank off Nova Scotia has been in place in since the 1980s. The federal and provincial governments have extended it to 2032. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters - image credit)
The ban on oil and gas development on Georges Bank off Nova Scotia has been in place in since the 1980s. The federal and provincial governments have extended it to 2032. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters - image credit)

The ban on drilling for oil and gas on rich fishing grounds south of Nova Scotia has been extended again until the end of 2032.

The Georges Bank moratorium was set to expire at the end of the year. Official notice of the extension was posted Wednesday morning.

The joint federal-provincial moratorium prohibits "the exploration and drilling for and the production, conservation and processing of petroleum" from Jan. 1, 2023, to Dec. 31, 2032.

The shallow bank straddles the Canada-U.S. maritime border. The Canadian side is 7,000 square kilometres and home to fisheries worth $140 million, providing work to more than 1,100 fishermen and onshore plant workers.

The marine ecosystem supports swordfish, tuna, groundfish, lobster and scallops, among others, and marine mammals including the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Fishing industry responds

The extension comes as a relief to people in the Nova Scotia fishing industry like Bee d'Entremont, who runs Acadian Fish Processors, a groundfish operation in Pubnico, N.S.

"This is certainly a win for us. Everybody's going to feel better not to be on edge about the oil and gas, at least for another decade," d'Entremont said.

"It means everything for our area, especially the ground fishery and the lobster fishery on Georges Bank."

The moratorium has been in place since the 1980s.

Every decade since, the Nova Scotia fishing industry has successfully lobbied federal and provincial governments to have it extended.

Energy development on the U.S. side was not seriously considered until 2018 when the Trump administration issued a draft policy proposal for oil and gas leases in the U.S. North Atlantic, which encompassed the American portion of Georges Bank.

That triggered opposition from some coastal states and U.S. tourism and fishery sectors, and led to legal actions.

No leases were issued and the draft lease policy was dismissed by the Biden administration.

'No plans' on U.S. side of Georges

A senior Nova Scotia government official said the U.S. has shown no interest in pursuing energy development on its side of the line — some 33,000 square kilometres.

"There's been no indication on the U.S. side that they have any plans to allow oil and gas development on the U.S. side," said Kim Doane, executive director of the subsurface energy development branch at the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables.

"I have not seen or heard of anything that would cause us to believe that they are lifting that in any shape for offshore oil and gas development at this time."

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management reviews offshore areas every five years.

Vital fishing area, ecosystem protected

On Wednesday, the Nova Scotia government called Georges Bank "one of the world's most productive fishing grounds."

"Georges Bank is a vital area to Nova Scotia's fishery that is economically important for both the harvesting and processing sectors," Steve Craig, the provincial minister of fisheries, said in a statement.

"Many Nova Scotians and their families rely on it for their living. It's a special marine ecosystem that has been historically linked to Nova Scotians' way of life for generations and can continue to contribute to the prosperity of our people well into the future."

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said in a statement: "By extending this moratorium on offshore oil and gas activities in Georges Bank, we are maintaining a unique and valuable ecosystem for current and future generations."

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