01 November 2010

Federal briefing note cautions against #oilspill speculation

A briefing note prepared for federal natural resources minister Christian Paradis describes the potential impact an oilspill offshore Newfoundland and Labrador from one of the existing fields.

The note describes projections about impacts of an oilspill as risky since they are speculative. Nonetheless, the briefing note – obtained by Canadian Press under federal access to information laws – does give some idea of what might happen in a “non-trivial” spill:

The note says a “non-trivial” spill could leave oil in the water for weeks or months and much of it likely wouldn't be recovered. But little-to-no oil would likely wash up on Newfoundland's shores, and most of it would drift eastward and disperse in the Atlantic Ocean.

Sea birds might not be so lucky. The document says “it is likely that oil from a large blowout offshore eastern N.L. would cause substantial and significant seabird mortality, due to these species' extreme vulnerability to surface oiling.”

Fish might survive, but the fishery would likely be affected:

“This could have an economic effect upon the fishery enterprises involved. ... There is also the possibility that market perceptions could be affected for fishery products caught over a wider area than that actually affected by oil.”

Okay.  So this is speculation and, as the briefing note suggests, the minister should avoid speculation.  That’s actually good advice and someone should have fed the minister some better talking points.

Someone should have fed better lines to Premier Danny Williams and Kathy Dunderdale, too.  Both not only speculated on potential scenarios, they downplayed the potential impact of a spill.

And of course, neither the federal nor provincial Conservative politicians mentioned the possible impact of a “non-trivial” spill in some places offshore but not quite so far out to sea.

Like say in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

- srbp -