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Illustration provided by Equinor, AFP archive

Illustration of the ship to be used in the Baie du Nord project

Gabriel Arsenault

Gabriel Arsenault
Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Moncton

Posted at 10:00 am

The Bay du Nord is probably the last major fossil fuel project approved in Canada. If it goes ahead, it will also be the first giant deep-sea extraction project in the country’s history. Others could follow: while the environmental transition calls for replacing fossil fuels with sustainable energies, such as solar or wind power, the pressure to extract various minerals (manganese, neodymium, cobalt, tellurium) in deeper waters will be more and more powerful. Although we don’t seem to fully realize it, by planning to drill at a depth of 1.2 km, the Bay du Nord has set a precedent.

Canada controls about 7.1 million square kilometers of ocean surface (four times the land area of ​​Quebec). For Justin Trudeau and his potential successors at the helm, it seems self-evident that this astonishingly vast land constitutes a reservoir of resources that can be exploited without delay. The Canadian mining industry is already actively involved in the exploration of deep-sea minerals across the planet. Over the next few years, in the absence of strong resistance from citizens, extractive projects in the Canadian deep waters will multiply.

However, from the European Parliament to Google across countless scientists, voices are rising to demand a halt to mining, or even any form of extractive activity, in deep waters. Biologist Helen Scales explains the strong reasons for this through pedagogy in her latest book, The wonderful abyss (2021).

It invites us to approach the deep waters, located at a depth of more than one kilometer below the surface, like a foreign country, different from ours and unknown. It is always cold and dark – sunlight does not reach it – and the pressure there is inaccessible to humans without the aid of advanced technologies. The sea floor accounts for 95% of the planet’s habitable volume, and it’s already full of life, especially exotic animals that are bioluminescent, or surprisingly long-lived: sentinel fish can live up to 250 years, some corals 5,000 years, some sponges, and more So. of 10,000 years.

Although microplastics and trawling have already taken a heavy toll there, the nature of the deep sea is the wildest we have left, still relatively unaffected by human activity.

Their ecosystems have been built over billions of years and we have intelligence that we’re only just beginning to understand, just like the countless services they provide or could do for us (especially in pharmacology). Deep-sea research is still in its infancy – for example, the ocean floor has been mapped only to a distance of 5 km, while the surface of the Moon is set to be within 100 metres.

The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) report on the Bay du Nord is a concrete illustration of what it means to exploit such a deeply misunderstood environment. Will the project harm marine mammals in the project area? The AEIC shyly admits: “There are no direct studies of marine mammal species, their frequency in the area for the purpose of migration, mating or parturition, diet strategies or prey preferences in the project area.” Regardless, in vaguely useless scientific legal language, the AEIC ensures that the project is risk-free, and that it is a matter of imposing “mitigation measures” on lawns, Equinor, for example, “stopping or delaying the densification of bubble clusters.” [canons à air] for all marine mammals and sea turtles when observed in the safety zone.”

The measure clearly betrays a fact that is hard to hide: the Canadian state is so disregarding of its territory that it cannot be credited with it while it authorizes an extractive project as heavy as the Bay du Nord – which plans to extract between 300 million. and 1 billion barrels of oil. May the list of mitigation measures expand more than ever (the AEIC report identifies 137 of them), let’s not be fooled.

Nor is it certain that the mentioned mitigation measures will be respected. The Radio Canada report noted that, according to data from the Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, for 2017 and 2018, exploration work was not stopped once when bad weather and darkness prevented observers from visually scanning marine mammals. Such monitoring will not be easier at a depth of one kilometer …

The neglect of our leaders towards the Bay du Nord is frightening; Let’s hope that the public outrage it has generated is fruitful and fuels a broader discussion about the exploitation of the deep sea’s resources.

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