Canadian Migratory Birds Set to be Next Victims of Gulf Oil Spill?
Piping Plovers, Northern Gannets among birds soon to pass through disaster area
On April 20, the world awoke to a developing tragedy triggered by an explosion on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Recent estimates put the total amount of the spill between 160 million and 320 million litres so far, more than four times the amount of the Exxon Valdez spill. We still don't know when the flow of oil into the Gulf will stop.
Oil has already reached a dozen Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The oil has damaged coastal grasses and sea grass beds that are vital nursery grounds for fish and shrimp and provide habitat for numerous other animals and plants. The loss of these critical sources of food could have devastating consequences for many bird species that depend on the Gulf coast region.
In just a few short weeks, the first migratory birds will begin their journey south from Canada to their wintering grounds in South and Central America. Many of them rely on the impacted region to gather and feed during their journey. Read about Canadian migrants that may be caught in the spill.
It will be months, if not years, before the full impacts of this oil spill are known. In some cases, we may never know the extent of the effects on particular species.
Could it happen in Canada?
Perhaps the greatest danger lies in drilling in the Arctic region. Just weeks before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, BP was actively lobbying the Canadian government to ease some of the planned rules for Arctic Ocean oil and gas exploration, and had already acquired three offshore exploration licenses for the Canadian Beaufort Sea.
A spill in the Arctic would have devastating consequences for the region's fragile wildlife and ecosystems, and no technology exists that could clean up a spill in so inhospitable an area. The techniques deployed in the Gulf – even there not nearly successful – would be useless in the Arctic.
Temporary Moratorium is Due
The disaster in the Gulf is a wake-up call. It is time to place a moratorium on new offshore drilling, including the Arctic, and to end our reliance on dirty, polluting fossil fuels in favour of responsible development of clean, renewable energy. Canada should place a moratorium on new off-shore drilling projects until Canada has a consistent set of regulations that protect the environment, workers and coastal communities.
In the near term, no new exploratory licenses should be granted and no applications approved until the National Energy Board (NEB) completes its review of Arctic safety and environmental offshore drilling requirements. A moratorium should also be in place until an independent commissioner is appointed to hold a review of offshore drilling on all of Canada’s coasts.
A permanent ban should be in place prohibiting any oil and gas drilling inside a recognized protected area, and that prohibits any future exploration licenses from being granted within protected areas.
Get the Regulations Right
Strict regulations, and the will to adhere to them, are absolutely essential for safe, sustainable oil and gas development off of Canada's shores, and in the Arctic.
Transition to Green Energy
The highly profitable oil and gas companies do not need government handouts, and billions of dollars in tax breaks shouldn't go to an industry that is the source of rapidly increasing emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change.
Instead, more investment should be put toward renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.
Audubon Magazine Blog, "Oil Spill Answers from Bird Conservation Expert on the Ground" June 3, 2010. http://magblog.audubon.org/oil-spill-answers-bird-conservation-expert-ground
LA Times, "Gulf oil spill figures may be double earlier estimates" June 11, 2010. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-oil-spill-
National Audubon Society: Audubon Important Bird Areas at Risk from the Gulf Oil Spill. http://www.audubon.org/news/pressroom/gos/iba.html
Toronto Star, "Canadian migratory birds, fish at risk from oil spill" June 7, 2010. http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/820169--canadian-migratory-birds-fish-at-risk-from-oil-spill?bn=1
Vancouver Sun, "No way to clean up oil spill under Arctic ice: Expert" June 15, 2010. http://www.vancouversun.com/news/clean+spill+under+Arctic+