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PetroWorth Granted Extension for Exploratory Oil Well Drilling Near Lake Ainslie

The Margaree Environmental Association loses its Nova Scotia Supreme Court appeal to prevent PetroWorth’s progress

by Natascia L

The Nova Scotia Department of Energy has granted PetroWorth Resources a one-year extension in its pursuits to test oil well drilling near Lake Ainslie following the dismissal of an appeal by the Margaree Environmental Association (MEA) to protect the body of water, the surrounding environment, and the wellbeing of residents nearby.

The case, presented to Justice David A. MacAdam on June 27 and July 17, dealt with several legal issues made complicated by dearth of evidence on the part of both parties.

In his written decision released earlier this week, MacAdam noted that the appellant did not submit sufficient evidence to argue that MEA was not able to adequately voice its concerns to the minister of environment regarding PetroWorth’s project, nor that the minister did not properly assess the risks and benefits of approving it.

In particular, MacAdam stressed the minimal evidence surrounding the existence of a brook near the site in question — a point on which the MEA’s argument strongly hinged.

MEA co-chair Neal Livingston said it concerned him that the only photographs MacAdam had on record were ones taken by government inspectors to not show the brook. The MEA could not enter additional evidence at the appeal stage.

“One would almost have to anticipate that you were going to have to conduct a judicial appeal in the future in order to ensure that communication and evidence can be entered into the record in advance of any situation where you would be imposing or initiating an appeal,” said MEA co-chair Brian Peters.

Determining the place of the court in judging the environment minister’s statutory powers was another sticking point in the appeal. MacAdam said that the environment minister has discretion in interpreting the Environment Act in order that his decisions balance the act’s competing mandates with public interest. The judge added that these decisions must be weighed by their reasonableness — not their correctness — and that the evidence presented in court suggested the minister had acted reasonably in this matter.

“I think the whole thing points to the fact that Nova Scotia has woefully inadequate environmental legislation,” said Peters. “The Environment Act is not able to protect the environment or the rights of the people.”

Peters said the Environment Act needs to have more scientifically determined specifications and controls with regards to decisions that affect sensitive ecosystems. He also called for more opportunities to declare moratoriums on activity such as oil drilling.

“I think the public can see very clearly, whether or not you are extremely interested in the issue, the extent to which the public’s rights are highly limited,” said Livingston,” and that’s set against really antiquated and intentionally bad legislation to protect the public against inappropriate industrial activity and damage to the environment.”

Livingston added that this appeal was but one part of the MEA’s fight to protect Lake Ainslie and the surrounding area. Despite the dismissal, he said he sees the attention this court case brought to the issue as a success.

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