The marine ecosystems off the coast of British Columbia are among the most beautiful and biodiverse in the world. But these critical habitats, and the species that depend on them, have been facing a looming threat from oil and gas exploration for decades.
Ecojustice, on behalf of World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-Canada) and the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF), is headed to court to challenge the validity of 20 “sleeper” offshore oil and gas exploration permits in B.C. These permits, held by multinational oil giants Chevron Canada Limited and Exxon Mobil, were first issued in the 1960s and 70s. Though they were to expire decades ago, Natural Resources Canada has indefinitely extended them, a move that is in direct conflict with the Canada Petroleum Resources Act.
The groups say the permits — left unaddressed — could pave the way for exploratory drilling to take place in the biodiversity-rich waters off the coast of B.C., including the Scott Islands Protected Marine Area and the Hecate Strait/Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area, and impede efforts to protect species at risk and critical marine habitats.
Scott Islands National Wildlife Area is an archipelago of five unique islands off the northwest tip of Vancouver Island that supports the highest concentration of breeding seabirds on Canada’s Pacific Coast. Attracting between 5-10 million migratory birds each year, the area provides key nesting habitat to 40 per cent of B.C.’s seabirds, including many listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act like the short-tailed albatross and the marbled murrelet.
Under the surface of the Pacific Ocean, the Hecate Strait/Queen Charlotte Glass Sponge Reef Marine Protected Area, located between Haida Gwaii and the mainland of British Columbia, is home to rare large colonies of glass sponges estimated to be 9,000 years old. Glass sponge reefs, mostly unique to British Columbia, are an integral part of a healthy marine habitat. These reefs provide shelter for marine life including rockfish and shrimp, store carbon on the ocean floor, filter bacteria out of the water, and fertilize the ocean. These special ecosystems support thriving culture and livelihoods for coastal communities.
There are around 50 other “sleeper” permits (also issued decades ago) still on the books, scattered across ecologically sensitive zones throughout the British Columbia coast. Similar permits remain active in the Arctic. These Arctic permits are currently under a legal moratorium that expires in December.
We are happy to report that by April 2023, Exxon Mobil and Chevron Canada Limited surrendered all 20 permits before our litigation proceeded to court. This means that these two protected areas are now entirely free from oil and gas rights! Since all of the permits we challenged are now gone, we have discontinued the lawsuit.