A U.S. government plan to expand offshore drilling in its waters could give oil and gas companies access to ecologically sensitive areas, including the American half of Georges Bank, a prospect that makes one Nova Scotia fish processor very nervous.
Georges Bank is a large elevated area of sea floor that separates the Gulf of Maine from the Atlantic Ocean and is an important breeding ground for several fish species.
It's an area far too important to the fishing industry to be endangered by drilling, according to Nathan Blades, the general manager of Sable Fish Packers on Cape Sable Island in southwest Nova Scotia.
Haddock, cod and other groundfish are all fished on Georges Bank, said Blades, and an oil spill could endanger them all.
"Georges Bank is important to many, many, species, it's an important spawning area, it's an important area of marine diversity," he told CBC's Information Morning. "It was decided long ago that Georges Bank on the American side and the Canadian side was too important to risk."
The Trump administration is moving forward with the most expansive U.S. offshore drilling proposal in years, in some cases opening up areas where drilling has been blocked for decades.
However, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said on Thursday the plan has not been finalized and his department will continue to "engage with the American people to get to our final product."
It could take two years for the first drills to go into the water, according to the Natural Resources Defence Council, a U.S.-based non-profit group that works to protect the environment.
"This is not dissimilar to everything we've seen from this administration, it's another step in a sustained assault on all our lands and waters," said Alexandra Adams, a senior advocate with the Natural Resources Defence Council.
"This is a gift to the oil industry that ignores all of the strong opposition from communities that clearly stated they don't want to risk their economies and way of life to offshore drilling," said Adams.
Blades agrees oil rigs are too dangerous for areas like Georges Bank. He notes the deadly Ocean Ranger disaster in 1982 off Newfoundland, and Deepwater Horizon, the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico that was largest ever in U.S. waters.
"Ocean Ranger wasn't supposed to flip over and sink, Deepwater Horizon was never supposed to happen, the chances of it were microscopic — yet there it is," Blades said.
"When Deepwater Horizon exploded and that wellhead went out of control they couldn't do anything. That wellhead flowed out of control for months, untold amounts of damage has been done to the ecosystem and seafood species in general in the Gulf of Mexico."
The high winds and rough seas in the North Atlantic also make it difficult to clean up oil spills. Floating booms to contain spills and machines that suck up oil don't work unless seas are calm, said Blades.
Adams believes the only way to prevent future spills is to stop offshore drilling from taking place. She said Americans will have to keep pushing their elected officials to roll back the changes.