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Québec City, October 22, 2004 – At the request of the Minister of the Environment, Thomas J. Mulcair, today the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) released its inquiry and public hearing report on the stakes related to seismic surveys in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence. The mandate to hold an inquiry and a public hearing began last March 15 and the report was tabled with the Minister of the Environment on schedule on August 31, 2004. The Commission entrusted with the portfolio was chaired by Michel Germain, assisted by commissioners Pierre André and Jacques Locat.

The Commission has concluded that before proceeding with seismic testing in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence with high-power equipment such as that used in oil and gas or scientific exploration, a review of the literature must be carried out to determine the effects of survey activity on marine life, certain areas where such a practice could be restricted have to be protected, and to create a legal environmental framework for authorizing projects of this kind has to be implemented. The Commission maintains that high-pressure sound causes behavioural changes in a number of species and may cause physiological damage and kill surrounding marine life.

While the thousands of kilometres of seismic survey lines acquired in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence since the 1960s do not seem to have had any visible effects on the marine environment, there are several persistent social and scientific concerns. If seismic surveys prove to influence migration routes, habitats or feeding grounds, or if they interfere with the ability of marine life to hear or communicate, it could spell long-term consequences for the ecological integrity of the St. Lawrence, for fisheries and for ecotourism. Given limited knowledge and the high level of concern, the Commission feels that a precautionary approach is called for in seismic testing in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Furthermore, given the complexity of the St. Lawrence system, the Commission deems it crucial that the model used to estimate noise mitigation be adapted and validated based on the features of the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence before new high-power seismic surveys are carried out. Validation of the noise mitigation model would enable more accurate definition of safety corridors, thereby helping to better protect marine mammals, several species of which are threatened or vulnerable, but also to protect the fish and invertebrates on which the fishery depends. Various measures can be used to mitigate or eliminate the impact of seismic surveys on marine life and human activity. They must be chosen in accordance with the limits of knowledge about the ecology of the various species in question as well as the physical conditions specific to the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Before new high-power seismic surveys are carried out, it is critical for the Commission to define the areas to be protected in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence, which could include the migration and spawning corridors, habitats, and feeding grounds needed for the development of a species or of several species. Protected area status could lead to a permanent ban or periodic moratoriums on seismic surveys or to the introduction of special requirements for testing.

The Commission believes that Québec should introduce an environmental authorization procedure for seismic surveys in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence. The lack of a recognized environmental protocol for seismic surveys hinders the planning and evaluation of such projects. The Commission also hopes that a harmonized environmental assessment procedure will be developed by the governments of Québec, Canada and the Atlantic Provinces for both the Estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Lastly, the Commission notes that public hearing participants wished to be consulted not only on the environmental stakes related to seismic surveys, but also on the Government of Québec’s offshore hydrocarbon development project. The representatives of the committee of experts were able to answer several of the questions from public hearing participants, but the lack of a framework document on the ins and outs of oil and gas exploration and possible development in the St. Lawrence was perplexing to many. The Commission hopes that the parliamentary commission on Québec’s energy security announced for this autumn and the future forum on integrated management of the St. Lawrence planned as part of the Water Policy will address the stakes related to the possible development of offshore hydrocarbons in the St. Lawrence.

The Commission has submitted a total of 16 opinions to the Minister of the Environment and 10 recommendations concerning sound wave emissions from seismic survey equipment, marine mammals and their habitats, fisheries, ecotourism, the government’s responsibilities and areas of jurisdiction, and development choices.


The inquiry and the public hearing report on the stakes related to seismic surveys in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence is now available at BAPE documentation centres, the reading rooms opened as part of BAPE’s mandate, and on the BAPE web site at It is also available through the BAPE office by e-mail at, or by phone at (418) 643-7447 or at toll-free 1-800-463-4732.

In all, 18 public sessions were held in Rimouski, Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Gaspé, Sept-Îles and Québec City, for a total attendance of over 600 participants. In the first part of the hearing, broadcast on the Internet, participants were briefed on the portfolio and asked questions—some of them e-mailed to the Commission—about the stakes related to seismic surveys. The Commission received 66 briefs, 44 of which were presented before the Commission during the public sessions that took place in the second part of the hearing.

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Source: Marie-Ève Chamberland, Communications Advisor
(418) 643-7447or 1-800-463-4732

The report is available in French only.

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