Organizing in small-town Nova Scotia to stop offshore drilling

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Organizing in small-town Nova Scotia to stop offshore drilling

Marilyn Keddy is a social worker and a long-time activist who lives in an active lobster fishing cove near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Peter Puxley is also a long-time activist, and has worked as an economist and a journalist. Scott Neigh interviews them about the work of the Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia (CPONS), an initiative to defend the province's fisheries and communities from the dangers of offshore oil and gas development, and about the importance of holding a full public inquiry into the potential impacts of such development.

Many grassroots campaigns, including environmental campaigns, focus the vast majority of their energies on people who live in major urban centres, and do relatively little to engage with people who live in other places. But when a number of Nova Scotians were disturbed by what they heard at an open house organized by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board in February 2016, they knew that the fight against offshore oil drilling would need to do things differently. Their immediate response to this open house was to organize their own public meeting, and from that gathering CPONS emerged.

The group sees the risks of offshore drilling for oil and gas as outweighing any possible benefits. Even elements of the exploration process, like seismic testing, have significant impacts on marine wildlife. The effects of a major oil spill, like the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, could be utterly devastating for Nova Scotian fisheries and for the communities that depend on them. Then of course there's the mounting global climate crisis – why, they ask, would Nova Scotia of all places be encouraging investment in an industry that will contribute to a crisis that, via rising sea levels, is a threat to coastal areas around the world?

CPONS' work to defend Nova Scotia's offshore is focused in the province's southwest coastal region. Today's guests describe organizing in a rural area as a big challenge, but so far it is one they have been meeting with considerable success.

For instance, marches and rallies are common tools for building momentum for a campaign and getting it noticed, but they just aren't practical outside of the city. Instead, a key element of their work has been a visibility campaign, involving signs and bumper stickers carrying the slogan "Offshore drilling – not worth the risk." The idea is that they will spark conversations between neighbours that can then become opportunities to spread awareness about the issue. Hundreds of people in towns and villages throughout the southwest shore have taken them, with people connected to the fishing industry seeming to be particularly supportive.

CPONS has also participated in many public events in the impacted communities, and has organized many public meetings and panel discussions. As well, they have been working hard at connecting with town councillors and local governments. Through a mixture of correspondence, presentations, and meetings they have built good working relationships with many.

One of CPONS' key demands at the moment is for a public inquiry into the impacts of oil and gass exploration in offshore Nova Scotia – a necessity, they argue, due to "the inadequaces of the current regulatory and impact assessment regime." Many municipal governments along the southwest shore have already expressed support for this demand, and CPONS expects more to do so in the coming months.

CPONS has also been collaborating with other groups. This includes working with Mi'kmaq groups in some of the public events they've held in local communities, and it also includes participating in a coalition called the Offshore Alliance, which is comprised of a range of environmental and fisheries organizations. As described in an episode of Talking Radical Radio back in February, that group's work has included a focus on how the re-vamping of federal environmental assessment legislation is set to increase the role in that process played by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board – a body with a mandate not just to regulate but also to promote offshore oil and gas development, and which is primarily comprised of people with industry ties.

Image: The image modified for use in this post was taken from Wikimedia.

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Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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