By Jody Weir, Raincoast Conservation Foundation
Prince Rupert Daily News,
January 11, 2008
In response to the article titled “Scientists furious at Canada as project is ditched” (Daily News, January 4th, 2008), it is important for readers to know that several scientists (myself included) are pleased, if not delighted, at the fact that the Batholiths Project, which proposed to use high-energy noise exploded into the ocean and injected into the earth in our coastal waters, was cancelled.
Exploring the seabed using intense sound waves, whether for oil and gas exploration or geological research to determine how the Coast Mountains were formed, is a violent acoustic assault on the marine environment and its inhabitants. The Batholiths Project planned to fire 36 high pressure air guns into the coastal waters every 20-60 seconds, 24 hours a day for three weeks. Whales and dolphins are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of blasting noise due to their reliance on sound and hearing to locate their food, find mates and stay in contact with their young. The International Whaling Commission has stated that noise from just a single seismic survey (such as the proposed Batholiths Project) can impact a region of almost 300,000 square kilometers and can raise noise levels 100 times higher, for days at a time. Underwater noise can lead to deafening of whales, displacement from their feeding and mating areas or migratory routes, and collisions with ships and entanglement in nets due to hearing damage. And of course, there are other marine inhabitants that would have been hurt by the Batholiths Project, including salmon, crabs, and other commercially (and ecologically) important species.
The waters off British Columbia are part of an incredibly rich, diverse and productive ecosystem, described by some as “The Galapagos of the North”. This area is under an onslaught of threats right now, from irresponsible logging practices to wild salmon declines to toxin loads so high, that our majestic killer whales, those iconic wondrous whales that bring millions of tourism dollars to our province every year, are among the most contaminated animals on the planet. The one very good thing that inhabitants of this coast have going for them is that British Columbia has a moratorium on oil and gas development; as a result, no one, no oil company or geological researcher, can engage in the destructive practice of exploding excessive noise in these waters.Readers also need to understand some of the policy and procedure that went into the cancellation of this highly expensive project. Proponents of the Batholiths Project had requested funding from NSERC (Canada’s National Science and Engineering Research Council). In addition to securing funding, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) would have had to issue permits under the Species at Risk Act and the Fisheries Act. Scientists within DFO, scientists within conservation groups, scientists from academic institutions and over 1,000 Canadian citizens told NSERC that they did not want the project to proceed. NSERC, which receives thousands of requests for funding, decided not to back the Batholiths Project and should be praised for making such a measured decision.
The presumption that “scientists” are only found in universities is profoundly arrogant and completely inaccurate. Scientists work within government agencies like DFO, which opposed the project, and they work within environmental NGO’s such as Raincoast. In fact, many Canadian citizens are independent scientists who do not work for either academic institutions, government agencies or NGO’s . Securing funding and permits for work is one of the most difficult parts of a scientist’s job. Funding is denied all the time, especially when the proposed project poses a threat to resources and endangered species. The quote that proponents “jumped every hurdle…went through every hoop”is intensely disrespectful of the process and the people who were closely involved with this issue. Jumping hurdles and going through hoops in an application process does not presuppose that a given project has merit. In addition, the Batholiths Project proponents should be well aware that science in itself is not a justification for science, particularly when the ramifications are so clearly of great concern to the public.
The NSERC decision reflects the concern that Canadians have about the state of their marine environment, it also recognizes that British Columbia remains one of the last places in North America that is protected from the destructive noise of seismic. Lastly, the Batholiths issue has illustrated the importance of civil society in Canada and the vital role that citizen organizations play in our democracy.
[Jody Weir, MSc, serves as the Marine Conservation Coordinator for Raincoast Conservation Foundation.]