Sunday, February 1, 2009

BAY OF FUNDY OPINION – Downeast LNG's Girdis, Comical Ali, and Canada

February 1, 2009

Downeast LNG is one of three LNG development proposals that must have their tankers traverse a very difficult route through Canadian inland waters in order to reach the sites of their proposed LNG terminals and facilities along the American shore of Passamaquoddy Bay. As it has for four decades, Canada remains opposed to the passage of large tankers through Head Harbour Passage. The reasons for this are: :

  1. The passage is the center of an”ecological engine” that is vital to the Bay of Fundy and northern Gulf of Maine. This “engine” drives an eco-economy that is valued at more than a half-billion dollars annually and supports thousands of Canadian jobs. Exclusion zones around tankers and facilities, while in layover or passage, will close down vital areas that support research, fisheries, aquaculture, and tourism thus reducing the viability of these vital industries. The Canadian position is based on economics, albeit with a huge environmental background.

  1. While it is acknowledged that large vessels such LNG tankers CAN find their way through the dangerous waters of Head Harbour Passage, a “risk analysis” was done for VLCC's during the Pittston Company's attempt to turn Eastport into a refinery and tank farm. Detailed professional studies were carried out and Canada determined that the Quoddy ecosystem was so valuable relative to the risk that they refused passage of large tankers through that passage. Nothing has changed.

  1. “Innocent passage” is a concept from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It is a little more complicated than the term “innocent” implies and is not applicable in the internal waters of any signatory country. Since the United States has not signed the Convention, it cannot claim rights under UNCLOS. This is a “red herring” that all LNG developers in Passamaquoddy Bay and their supporters, continue to use.

  1. Security and safety facilities along the Canadian and American shores of Passamaquoddy Bay have been deemed inadequate and the cost to local communities , the Province of New Brunswick, and Canada will be huge. Why would we condone these expenses when there is absolutely no economic benefit whatsoever?

  1. Had Mr. Girdis read the United States Coast Guard report, he would have seen that the USCG recognizes the sovereign rights of Canada in its own waters and indicated clearly that Canadian approval is an essential condition that must be met. The rest of the report is moot unless that approval is obtained.

  1. There are many other important reasons for prohibiting tanker passage including the difficulty of navigation, increased pollution, plankton reduction by cooling waters, loss of fishing grounds, introduction of invasive species, future cumulative affects from associated developments, and detrimental impacts on important and endangered bird and marine mammal populations including the endangered north Atlantic right whale which, in spite of claims to the contrary, does occur in the inner Quoddy Region where the LNG tankers could be operating. Full details are available online at:

Up to now, I have had grudging admiration for Downeast LNG's President Dean Girdis who, through it all, has continued to stay “on message” in the face of naked reality. But lately, he has been reminding me of “Comical Ali”. You will remember him. He was the Iraqi Information Minister who we all watched on CNN as he tried to convince the world that a superior force had not made it into Baghdad; even as automatic weapons fire could be heard in the background.

Regardless of the insulting disdain that Mr. Girdis has shown, Canada is still a sovereign country, the Hon. Greg Thompson is a senior member of cabinet, and Downeast LNG is but a tiny speck of a company. Mr. Girdis has not enhanced his cause by openly demonstrating his contempt for Canadians in general and Canada in particular. To paraphrase your words in a recent letter from Mr. Girdis, “Canada will not sit quietly by as you seek to protect your own economic interests by trying to dictate what kind of development is acceptable in sovereign Canadian waters.”


Art MacKay is a marine biologist, author and writer with over 40 years professional experience in the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine.

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