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Canada banning oil, gas and mining from marine-protected areas

Last Updated Apr 25, 2019 at 9:41 am EDT

The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility is reflected in a tailings pond near the city of Fort McMurray, Alta., on June 1, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

The oil and gas industry has worn out its welcome in Canadian marine conservation areas.

Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson Thursday is announcing a total ban on oil and gas work, as well as mining, waste-dumping and bottom-trawling, in all of Canada’s marine protected areas.

Wilkinson is at an international nature summit in Montreal where Canada is pushing other countries to do more to protect the global environment.

The changes apply recommendations made last fall by a panel the government asked to provide advice on the best way to improve standards in marine protected areas. The ban on industrial activities brings Canada up to international standards recommended by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The bans apply only to marine protected areas, which are specific areas within bodies of water that are granted protected status by federal, provincial or territorial governments.

Until now, activities like oil and gas exploration and exploitation were only banned in these areas on a case-by-case basis.

Marine refuges, which are more numerous areas where governments impose fisheries closures often to protect just a single species, will still allow oil and gas operations. The ones that do will not be counted towards Canada’s commitment to protect 10 per cent of the country’s marine and coastal areas by 2020.

Canada had hit nearly eight per cent by the end of 2018, but more than half of that amount is marine refuges. It’s not clear yet what effect discounting refuges that are still open to oil and gas work will have on the total.

The World Wildlife Federation of Canada said last fall it was concerned about the exemption for marine refuges.

Oceana Canada, a charity devoted to protecting ocean life, also raised concerns that four months after Canada named the Northeast Newfoundland Slope Conservation Area — a 47,000-square-kilometre section of the Atlantic Ocean — as a marine refuge in 2017, it agreed to allow oil and gas exploration in the same area. That decision also angered local fishers since the designation barred all fishing in the name of environmental protection.