06/09/2014 01:47 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:08 EDT

Moratorium on Gulf of St. Lawrence oil exploration sought

A coalition that includes environmental groups, First Nations communities and fishery representatives from five Canadian provinces is pushing for a moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The St. Lawrence Coalition says too little is known about the possible effects of oil and gas projects on the gulf’s fragile ecosystem to proceed with them in its waters.

A new 80-page report produced by the coalition details the current lack of reliable information on the challenges that such development would pose to the more than 4,000 species that call the Gulf of St. Lawrence home, as well as the local industries like fisheries and tourism that it sustains.

Endangered blue whales, bluefin tuna and belugas are just a few of the vulnerable species found in the gulf's waters. 

No oil and gas projects should be given the green light until those gaps in our knowledge our filled, the group said.

Though there are currently no active oil and gas projects in the gulf, the coalition says seismic studies over 60,000 kilometres have been conducted and 10 exploratory wells have been drilled in the gulf to determine what deposits it may hold.

Oil spill could 'destroy' Gulf ecosystem

It’s believed potential reserves in the gulf could yield more than five billion barrels of oil.

And that’s enough to make the coalition’s members worry.

“One oil well blowout could destroy [the gulf’s ecosystem],” Sierra Club Foundation Canada National Director John Bennett said.

According to the report, the gulf presents a number of unique physical challenges that would “greatly complicate” an oil spill cleanup in the region. Currents, ice cover and cold water would conspire to potentially trap oil rather than disperse it.

Provinces need to see big picture

Five provinces border the Gulf of St. Lawrence — Quebec, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

As it stands, the coalition said each province looks at the gulf from the perspective of its own jurisdiction rather than an interdependent whole.

This perspective needs to change in order to properly understand the true effects of oil and gas development on the gulf's ecosystem.

“At the moment, several provinces have interests in the Gulf of St. Lawrence but no one talks to each other,” Jean-Patrick Toussaint, a scientist with the David Suzuki Foundation and a member of the Coalition, told CBC News.

Toussaint took some hope in the Quebec government’s recent decision to order a full environmental assessment of the impact of oil and gas exploration in the region.

The coalition is calling for the establishment of an arm's-length review panel to look into the future of oil and gas development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and hold public consultations on the issue.

The coalition presented its report to staff members of Quebec Natural Resources Minister Pierre Arcand's office Monday morning.