There were some things the federal government just didn't want to talk about during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill — like what if it happened here.
Newly released documents reveal that officials advised Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis to avoid talking with two provincial counterparts about the effects of a big oil spill off the coast of Newfoundland.
A briefing note obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act advises that it would be "risky" to discuss the scenario. It was prepared ahead of discussions with Nova Scotia Energy Minister Bill Estabrooks and Kathy Dunderdale, natural resources minister for Newfoundland and Labrador.
The document describes the potential fallout from a large oil spill off Newfoundland's eastern coast, including damage to the fishing industry and the deaths of many sea birds.
Under the heading "Fate and effects of a major offshore spill in N.L." is a warning to Paradis.
"The points in this section are, of necessity, very general statements and therefore must be considered 'risky,"' the document says. "Ideally, speculation of this topic should be avoided."
"In the event it is unavoidable, read on …."
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. Little-to-no oil would likely wash up on Newfoundland's shores, however, and most of it would drift eastward and disperse in the Atlantic Ocean.
Seabird deaths predicted
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."
The document says fish would probably be safe from a major spill, but a blowout could hurt the region's fishing industry.
"Any fishing activity in or around the vicinity of spilled oil would have to be suspended for whatever period that oil persisted in the area, due to the potential for gear and/or catch to be oiled.
"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."
It's unclear precisely why officials advised Paradis that such talk was taboo. No one from his office was immediately available for comment.
Estabrooks and Dunderdale also were not available for comment.
Bureaucrats drafted the briefing note to Paradis after a blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Millions of barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf after an offshore rig exploded in April and killed 11 workers.
It took BP nearly three months to plug the gushing well.
Canada's National Energy Board announced it would review offshore oil and gas drilling rules after the Gulf spill.
Only one drilling project — the Chevron Lona O-55 exploratory well off the coast of Newfoundland — is underway in Canadian waters. There are no operations off the Pacific coast or in the Arctic. There are some active oil-and-gas production projects off the coasts of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.