October 27, 1999
Head Mass Fishermen Challenge New England Aquarium to
Take Stand Against Oil and Gas Drilling on Georges Bank
MFP Issues Rebuttal
BOSTON - Alarmed by the recent white paper issued by the New England
Aquarium entitled "Potential Environmental Consequences of Petroleum
Exploration and Development on Georges Bank," the Massachusetts Fishermen’s
Partnership (MFP) released a report today strongly critical of the Aquarium
white paper and calling on the Aquarium to take a stand. The Aquarium’s paper
fails to take a position on oil and gas exploration and drilling in spite of
overwhelming evidence of potential environmental damage by these activities.
The Canadian Government is currently on the verge of deciding the future
of oil and gas drilling on Georges Bank. By the end of this year, Canada must
either extend the existing Moratorium that has been in effect since 1988 or
offshore leasing for petroleum exploration could begin.
"Given the critical timing, it seems irresponsible to produce such a
superficial document. It could significantly influence the decision without
taking a firm position either endorsing or disagreeing with the Canadian
recommendation," said David Lincoln, an environmental consultant working for
the Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership and the Gloucester Fishermen's
Wives Association. "A Canadian government science panel recommended extending
the moratorium in July, and the critical review made by that team was far
more comprehensive than that of the committee working on the Aquarium white
paper," Lincoln also said.
In a letter to the Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership (MFP), Jerry
Schubel, president of the New England Aquarium, said that while many
individual members of the staff have concluded that the moratorium should be
extended, the Aquarium "has no mechanism for taking a position as an
organization on issues like the extension of the Georges Bank moratorium." He
goes on to say that the white paper published by the Aquarium includes
information not reviewed by the Canadian Georges Bank Review Panel.
The MFP strongly refuted the Aquarium's inability to make a conclusion
from the information cited in the white paper. The MFP critique released to
the public today is called "Whitewashed: Implications of the Georges Bank Oil
and Gas White Paper" and is available through the MFP website.
"Even without the huge mass of data ignored by the Aquarium's paper,
information included in the Aquarium's own report is more than adequate to
conclude that the impacts of seismic testing and drilling would be very
destructive to the sensitive ecosystem of Georges Bank," according to
The findings of the Aquarium's own Steering Committee (consisting of 3
representatives from the Aquarium and two from the Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution) show that exploration and production activities could have a
significant negative effect on marine species and the livelihood of
For example, the White Paper reported that a seismic survey involves loud
explosions (roughly equivalent to a lightning strike on the surface of the
water or a seafloor volcanic eruption) occurring approximately every 10
seconds. The Steering committee concluded that:
"Seismic noise can disturb and modify the behavior of fishes over
distances of several kilometers in ways that alter commercial fishing
Also, since "weather effectively limits seismic operations to summer
months on Georges Bank," the impact of these activities could be worsened.
Regarding marine pollution, the Aquarium cites a study which estimates
that drilling mud and cuttings discharges would be massive. For a likely 3
well exploration program, discharge of bulk mud at the end of drilling would
be 450-1200 tons with an additional 600 to 3000 tons (dry mass) of cuttings
probably dumped into the ocean. For a development program of 50 wells, the
drilling mud discharge would be 45,000 tons with cuttings possibly providing
an additional 50,000 tons of contaminants into the marine environment. The
White Paper summarized this impact as follows:
"Most benthic organisms are highly specialized for the grain size of
sediments to which they are adapted. Organisms adapted to coarse sediments
are unlikely to benefit from the addition of fine-grained material."
This would seem to be an extremely curious way to describe mortality of
benthic organisms buried under hundreds of tons of discharged mud and
cuttings from a single well.
The MFP believes it is unconscionable in view of these facts for the
Aquarium's Steering Committee not to take a stand to oppose oil and gas
operations on Georges Bank. It is unfortunate that the New England Aquarium,
the only institution to attempt a detailed re-creation of the Georges Bank
habitat for educational purposes, was unable to come to a conclusion at this
time about what should be done to protect the Bank’s future.
The Canadian Georges Bank Review Panel appears to have had no difficulty
making a conclusive determination. Their one sentence recommendation leaves
no room for misunderstanding and states succinctly:
"The panel recommends that action be taken to have the moratorium on
petroleum activities on Georges Bank remain in place."
The Provincial Government of Nova Scotia has endorsed this decision.
David Bergeron, MFP coordinator, said that "we are not saying that the
evidence bars offshore oil drilling in every case, but we are saying, 'not on
Georges Bank.'" "As one of the most productive fishing grounds on earth,
Georges Bank is too important to take such a risk. The stakes are just too
The MFP is confident that after assimilating all of the related documents
which have been made available in the past year on the Georges Bank
Moratorium issue no impartial panel or steering committee representing
American interests could disagree with the Canadian recommendation.
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