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Old Harry oil exploration licence in Gulf of St. Lawrence extended

Last Updated Jan 15, 2016 at 4:20 pm EST

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Environmental activists who want a drilling moratorium in the Gulf of St. Lawrence weren’t impressed Friday as regulators extended an oil exploration licence for the Old Harry site by another year.

Corridor Resources Inc. (TSX-CDH) of Halifax had until Friday to offer a $1 million deposit to extend the licence until next January.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board announced the province and Ottawa agreed to waive the fee. Federal and provincial Natural Resources ministers ratified the move “in consideration of regulatory factors that have resulted in … delays in drilling a validation well in the final year of (Corridor’s) nine-year licence term,” the board said in a news release.

Spokesman Sean Kelly said no one was available for further comment.

Corridor Resources President and CEO Steve Moran referred all questions to the offshore petroleum board.

“It’s awful,” said Sylvain Archambault of the St. Lawrence Coalition, one of several environmental and indigenous groups across Canada that have called for a drilling moratorium in the Gulf.

“This is the third time they’ve obtained such a free pass.”

In its news release, the offshore board said it will soon announce plans for consultations with aboriginal groups and the public on related environmental assessments. Such regulatory requirements must be complete before any drilling goes ahead, Kelly confirmed in an email.

The federal government has estimated the Gulf and surrounding areas potentially hold 39 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 1.5 billion barrels of oil.

Indigenous groups and environmental activists have urged a moratorium in the Gulf pending a scientific review of risks. They also want to see collective management strategies involving the five adjacent provinces — Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Drilling would be close to the shore of any province,” Archambault said Friday in an interview. The Old Harry site is about 80 kilometres west of Newfoundland. One theory is that it was named for a community on the nearby Magdalen Islands.

“Scientific spill scenarios clearly show that the west coast of Newfoundland would be impacted as well as Cape Breton and the Magdalen Islands,” Archambault said.

“In the Gulf there are fisheries worth over $1.5 billion. There’s tourism, communities living all around the Gulf. We really don’t want the same scenario that happened in the Gulf of Mexico to repeat itself here.”

The Deepwater Horizon explosion April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 rig workers. An estimated 3.19 million barrels of oil spewed into the water before engineers could cap the blown-out well 87 days later.

“And the Old Harry drilling site would be smack in the middle of the Laurentian Channel which is the highway used by all the migrating species — whales, salmon, cod,” Archambault said. “Anything happening there would be disastrous.”