Nova Scotia·Opinion

Sable Island: A national park in the middle of a gas field

Megan Leslie, the MP for the area that includes Sable Island, reflects on the decision to create a national park in the middle of an industrial zone of natural gas and oil exploration.
Megan Leslie, the MP for the area that includes Sable Island, says the bill to create the Sable Island National Park Reserve isn't perfect but it's a step in the right direction. (Robert Short/CBC)

At the end of the spring 2013 parliamentary session, I had the opportunity to work on the bill that created Sable Island National Park Reserve.

Like all things we pour our hearts into, we see all the flaws and bumps and rough spots up close — but then we get to stand back to take it all in, see the finished product and realize what we accomplished.

Our community worked incredibly hard over many years to make this park a reality and I'm proud to have played a small role in that process.

As a national park, Sable Island will now receive enhanced protection and a more coherent and centralized management plan than ever before.

This designation has been the culmination of years of consultation and co-operative work between the federal government, the Nova Scotia government, industry and stakeholder groups.

It represents a compromise by a diverse group of interests — and to me, it certainly represents an improvement.

What does this mean? It means that Parks Canada is responsible for protecting the unique and delicate park ecosystem. It means that this island enjoys park status and protection and drilling will not take place on the island.

It's difficult to believe, but at the beginning of June 2013, the oil and gas industry had the right to set up shop and start drilling on the island. That right has been extinguished. This is a very good thing.

'The bill had its flaws'

I'll be frank. The bill that created the Sable Island National Park Reserve was not perfect. As the NDP Environment Critic as well as the MP for Sable Island, I did a thorough analysis of the bill and made a recommendation to my caucus to support the bill.

This was a difficult decision, as the bill had its flaws. But, it was a step in the right direction. It offered something to Sable Island that changes everything: national park status and protection. It's been a long time coming.

The Sable Offshore Energy Project involves six natural gas fields near Sable Island, called Venture, South Venture, Thebaud, North Triumph, Glenelg and Alma. (Debbie Brekelmans/Maritime Air Charter Ltd.)

Sable is in this unique situation where we've created a national park in a gas field. Before receiving national park status, the island was under the jurisdiction of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and activities on the island were regulated by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act.

While Sable has received national park status, I am disappointed that there is a provision that allows for non-drilling petroleum exploration on the island, as well as drilling outside of a one nautical mile exclusion zone, including horizontal drilling under the island from outside the exclusion zone.

However, it is important to note that no drilling — whatsoever — will be permitted on the island and that all permissible activities must meet the standard of "low impact."

With that said, we worked to have both the federal government and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, on the record, to develop a directive or other mechanism through public consultation that will define what permissible activity on the island can be — using the standard of "low impact" as set out in the bill.

Ongoing funding

This does appear to be a good solution, particularly because the public will be able to add their voices to the development of the plan.

I wholeheartedly believe that Sable Island deserved to become a national park. For more than 40 years, groups have been calling for the establishment of a national park and granting Sable Island that official status will make it more controversial to undertake industrial and other activities that might affect the ecology and the wildlife on the island.

Furthermore, having Sable Island under the watch of Parks Canada will ensure it has an ongoing source of funding.

Over the next five years, Parks Canada will be developing a management plan for the island that will include stakeholders and public consultation.

It will be tabled in Parliament, where I hope to be actively involved in ensuring that the environmental protections for the park are as stringent as possible.

The beauty, history and ecological importance of Sable Island have captured the imaginations of local residents and Canadians. The island and its unique habitats must be protected; that began by designating the island as a national park.

Sable Island is represented in the House of Commons by Megan Leslie, the New Democrat MP for Halifax.

About the Author

Megan Leslie

New Democrat MP, Halifax

Megan Leslie is the member of Parliament for the riding of Halifax, which includes Sable Island. She is the deputy leader of the New Democratic Party.


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