Energy East and Oil in the St. Lawrence Estuary

In the 1970’s a deepwater oil tanker port was suggested for l’Isle Verte. Fortunately that proposal went dormant. But it has risen again as a proposal for a tanker port at nearby Cacouna.

It is widely recognized that the area of Cacouna is critical nursery habitat for the St. Lawrence Belugas.

The St. Lawrence Beluga population is isolated from the Hudson Bay Belugas and the St. Lawrence Belugas have declined to an estimated 900 whales. This may move their COSEWIC status to endangered which could push the proposal out of Cacouna.

Putting a deep-water oil tanker port anywhere in the St. Lawrence estuary would risk the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence ecological system. This is an outstandingly productive and diverse estuarine system. Possibly the most productive in temperate regions. The system’s productivity and diversity depend on the fact that a deep current flows westward carrying nutrients from the Scotian Shelf to the headwall of an ancient fjord at Tadoussac. Here those nutrients upwell along the face of the headwall, mix with the freshwaters of the St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers and flow on the surface downstream to the lower estuary where giant gyres swirl those rich waters. The gyres give the food chains of the Gulf of St. Lawrence time to build the nutrients into biomass.

With that structure in the ecosystem, an oil spill in the upper estuary would risk mixing that oil and associated toxins directly into the feedstock that support the entire ecosystem. The duration of effects of a spill is at least a month for surface freshwater and could be up to 200 days in the saltwater flows in the system.

Regardless, what rationale could possibly place such a risk in such a critical position in an outstanding river system with such a noble role in the history of our country?

See the Gulf of St. Lawrence chapter of Special Places in Canada for a non-technical discussion of the Gulf of St. Lawrence ecosystem.

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