Joint Notice Extending the Prohibition Period for Certain Activities on Georges Bank: SOR/2022-82
Canada Gazette, Part II, Volume 156, Number 9
SOR/2022-82 April 13, 2022
CANADA-NOVA SCOTIA OFFSHORE PETROLEUM RESOURCES ACCORD IMPLEMENTATION ACT
Whereas the Federal Minister and the Provincial Minister, pursuant to subsection 141(1)footnote a of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act footnote b, issued the Joint Notice Specifying the Prohibition Period For Certain Activities on Georges Bank footnote c on April 11, 2016 which imposed a prohibition period that ends on December 31, 2022;
And whereas, after having reviewed the environmental and socio-economic impact of exploration and drilling activities in that portion of the offshore area described in Schedule IV to that Act and all other relevant factors, the Ministers wish to extend, for a period of 10 years, the prohibition period set out in that Joint Notice;
Therefore, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables for Nova Scotia, pursuant to subsection 141(2)footnote a of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act footnote b, make the annexed Joint Notice Extending the Prohibition Period for Certain Activities on Georges Bank.
Ottawa, April 11, 2022
Minister of Natural Resources
Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables for Nova Scotia
Joint Notice Extending the Prohibition Period for Certain Activities on Georges Bank
1 For the purpose of subsection 141(3) of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act, the exploration and drilling for and the production, conservation and processing of petroleum in that portion of the offshore area described in Schedule IV to that Act and the transportation of petroleum produced in that portion of the offshore area are prohibited for a period beginning on January 1, 2023 and ending on December 31, 2032.
Coming into Force
January 1, 2023
2 This Joint Notice comes into force on January 1, 2023.
(This note is not part of the Notice.)
This notice is made pursuant to section 141 of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act, and extends a moratorium on oil and gas activities on Georges Bank. The extension will take effect January 1, 2023, and end on December 31, 2032.
Georges Bank is a large, shallow bank with an area of more than 40 000 square kilometres. It is located on the outer continental shelf of eastern North America. The bank straddles the Canada–U.S. maritime border, with approximately 7 000 square kilometres located in the southwestern part of the Canada–Nova Scotia offshore area.
Area’s rich ecosystem, environmental sensitivity and importance
Georges Bank is a significant marine ecosystem that, on account of its high phytoplankton production, provides habitat to a wide range of fish, including swordfish, tuna, herring, and mackerel; marine mammals, including the endangered right whale, crustaceans, including clams, lobster, and deep-sea scallops; and corals. It also supports important commercial fisheries, including cod, haddock, pollock, and yellowtail flounder.
Georges Bank supports a valuable, productive and sustainable fishery. In 2019, it was estimated that the Canadian portion of Georges Bank provided employment for approximately 556 people involved directly in fishing and harvesting, and another 636 people in onshore processing. In 2020, the Canadian portion of the Georges Bank fishery landed catch of all species was valued at $140.6 million.
Georges Bank has also been an area of interest for petroleum exploration since the 1960s. Although its hydrocarbon potential it is not precisely known, the area is believed to be natural gas–prone. In 1983, the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) estimated that the average hydrocarbon expectation of the East Georges Bank Basin was 1.06 million barrels of oil and 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The GSC’s more speculative estimates for the basin were 2.2 billion barrels of oil and 10.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. These estimates were based on seismic surveys conducted in the area. While no exploratory wells were drilled in the Canadian portion of Georges Bank, there were 10 wells drilled between 1976 and 1982 on the U.S. side of the bank.
Georges Bank contains oil and gas exploratory permits that were issued by the federal government between 1964 and 1971 pursuant to the Canada Oil and Gas Land Regulations (in accordance with the Territorial Lands Act and the Public Lands Grants Act).
Joint management regime and past moratoria
Oil and gas activities in the Canada–Nova Scotia offshore are currently regulated under federal and provincial mirrored versions of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act (jointly known as the Accord Acts), which established a joint federal-provincial regulator and shared decision-making by the two levels of government. The federal Minister of Natural Resources and his provincial counterpart in Nova Scotia (the ministers) are responsible for the joint management regime of petroleum resources in the Canada–Nova Scotia offshore area.
Due to concerns over the potential negative impacts of offshore petroleum activity and to protect Georges Bank’s important ecosystem, the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia have held oil and gas moratoria in the area since 1988 using various legal and policy tools. The current statutory moratorium under the Accord Acts is set to expire on December 31, 2022.
Moratorium extension requirements
The Accord Acts provide the ministers with the authority to extend the moratorium for additional periods of no more than 10 years each time, through a joint ministerial written notice. The federal notice must be published in the Canada Gazette. The most recent notice to establish the current oil and gas prohibition in Georges Bank (SOR/2016-70) was published in the Canada Gazette, Part II, on May 4, 2016.
The Accord Acts also require that the ministers undertake a review of the environmental and socio-economic impacts of exploration and drilling activities in the Georges Bank area before making a decision respecting an extension of the moratorium.
In 2021, the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia, through the Offshore Energy Research Association (now known as Net-Zero Atlantic), sponsored an independent study to fulfill the review requirement under the Accord Acts. Stantec Consulting Ltd. was hired and completed an independent review to update the current state of knowledge of socio-economic and biological factors respecting potential oil and gas development in the Georges Bank. The study report, titled Science and Socio-economic Review of the Georges Bank Prohibition Area 2010-2021, assessed any significant changes in the last 10 years on a variety of areas, including fisheries, offshore petroleum and other scientific data to inform decision-making.
The report reaffirmed the significant importance of Georges Bank to southwest Nova Scotia, both in harvesting of key species as well as in fish processing ashore. The report confirmed that the geology of Georges Bank is similar to areas elsewhere in the Canada–Nova Scotia offshore area that had successful oil and gas projects. The report highlighted the fact that offshore oil and gas projects (located in less environmentally sensitive areas) have successfully co-existed with fisheries in Nova Scotia, with both industries contributing sustainably to the provincial economy.
The report also concluded that there have been significant regulatory, environmental, technological, and offshore petroleum spill management changes since 2010. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (2010) led to technological advancements in well control, oil spill trajectory modelling, oil toxicity science, and natural resources damage assessments. However, the report also included a number of conclusions that identified areas of potential uncertainty and concern, as in the past, respecting the potential impacts of offshore petroleum exploration and development, notably in relation to marine species, accidental discharges, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change.
The review study report was subsequently released to the public (January 2022) and used as a consultative tool to seek comments and feedback from key stakeholders and the general public.
The U.S. North Atlantic was not seriously considered for oil and gas development until 2018 when, at the directive of the federal administration, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a draft policy proposal for oil and gas leases. Then, several U.S. authorities of coastal states, as well as fisheries and tourism sectors, opposed development with some taking legal action against the policy. No leases were issued and the policy has since been dismissed by the current U.S. federal administration.
No negative environmental effects are expected as a result of the decision to extend the moratorium. There are no financial implications associated with this notice; it fulfills a statutory requirement under the Accord Acts.
The two levels of government are supportive of an extension of the moratorium in Georges Bank. The final joint ministerial decision undertaken by the ministers to extend the moratorium prohibition was based on the results of the independent review study and the feedback received from the key stakeholder engagement process.
The governments of Canada and Nova Scotia have worked closely and extensively to fulfill the statutory review requirement and stakeholder engagement procedures.
Engagement with key stakeholder groups occurred between January and March 2022. Most of these groups had previously expressed a strong interest in the Georges Bank moratorium and requested participation in its review process. These groups consisted mainly of municipalities in southwest Nova Scotia, fishers and fisheries organizations, First Nations, and environmental advocacy groups. Governments also approached the oil and gas industry to seek comments and feedback on the review study, and consulted the permit holders with exploration permits in the Georges Bank moratorium area on the protection of this productive ecosystem.
In addition to providing technical comments and suggestions, the majority of responses received from key stakeholders showed a strong support to maintain and/or renew the current moratorium in Georges Bank.
Offshore Petroleum Management Division
Natural Resources Canada
580 Booth Street