We expose the difficulties we encountered to obtain from industry environmental information that is crucial for impact studies and decision-making related to the potential development of offshore oil and gas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada. This case concerns the information disseminated by the oil company Corridor Resources that there are six persistent, natural oil seeps emanating from the flanks of the Old Harry geological structure in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. According to Corridor, these seeps rise through the water column and appear at the sea surface directly above the prospect, forming permanent oil slicks visible from satellite imagery. Corridor believes this is an indication that the Old Harry prospect contains oil. While this information might be credible, it has been impossible for us to verify its accuracy because the sources are kept secret under the argument of “commercially sensitive.” Yet, such information about the possible presence of natural oil and its sources is essential to obtain and to verify in order to construct a reliable baseline initial state against which any new man-made oil contribution resulting from eventual oil and gas development could be compared with, and impacts on the marine environment, ecosystem, and people be then truly assessed. We describe the legal, economic, and political contexts in which withholding this information might happen, and we take a critical look at its impact on scientific research as well as on decision-making in society.

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