In a gesture long awaited by the petroleum industry, the Trudeau government announced Thursday morning that it exempts all exploratory drilling carried out in the marine environment, off the coast of Newfoundland, from the environmental assessment process that was previously force. Ottawa, which wants to accelerate the completion of projects, stresses that economic recovery requires a “strong, resilient and innovative” oil sector.
“The offshore petroleum sector in Newfoundland and Labrador provides economic prosperity for the province and the rest of Canada, providing thousands of good jobs. This industry demonstrates ingenuity and a spirit of innovation that make it an important part of our clean growth future. This is why the federal government is so determined to keep the sector competitive on a global scale, “said Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan in a press release.
“Our government recognizes that Newfoundland and Labrador’s ability to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic will depend greatly on the ability of the offshore sector to be strong, resilient and innovative,” he added. .
The development of the new regulation, however, started well before the current crisis. The Trudeau government had commissioned in 2019 a “regional assessment” which covers a maritime territory of more than 735,000 km2 located in the Atlantic. This large area, which cuts across the very important commercial fishing sector of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, has many major ecological zones and is home to several endangered species, including endangered marine mammals.
The region also includes most of the exploration licenses held by oil companies in the marine environment in the east of the country. The settlement formalized on Thursday by the federal Liberals therefore provides that all exploration wells drilled in the 735,000 km2 area will be exempt from the review of the Impact Assessment Act.
The Trudeau government is therefore continuing to take steps to ease environmental regulations targeting the petroleum industry. Until now, an oil company that wanted to conduct a first drilling project on an exploration license located in the waters east of Newfoundland and Labrador had to file a project notice and produce an impact study . A review was then conducted by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which produced a report for the Minister of the Environment. The latter then decided to authorize or not the project.
An oil and gas company will henceforth, 90 days before the start of drilling, file a “notice” of the project with the government, including the technical information. The proponent will then work with the Canada – Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, which manages the development of the industry. The promoter will also have to plan a “follow-up” of the operations. It will be able to carry out seismic surveys, accompanied by a “monitoring” program of this operation, which represents well documented major risks for marine fauna.
These regulations are good news for this Maritime province. Newfoundland and Labrador wants at least 100 exploration wells to be drilled by 2030, to increase oil production in the coming years. The goal would be to produce more than 650,000 barrels a day.
Reacting to the federal government’s announcement on Thursday, Newfoundland and Labrador Minister of Natural Resources Siobhan Coady pointed out that the province has “a resource potential of 52.2 billion barrels of oil”, and this, taking into account only a portion of the marine territory open to oil and gas exploration. She said she hoped for “great discoveries” in the coming years.
According to the Trudeau government, it is entirely reasonable to do so, since the report produced by the committee that conducted the regional assessment “concludes that the effects of exploratory drilling for oil and gas offshore are well known, and are causing disruption minor, localized and temporary, and are not likely to be significant if standardized mitigation measures are put in place. ”
However, the committee’s report is very critical of the process imposed by the federal government. He insists in particular on “the very short time” which was granted to him “to discharge his task”. “This not only limited the ability of the Committee to prepare the report, but also reduced public confidence in the work of the Committee and the opportunities for others to contribute. The members were appointed on April 15, 2019 and their work was scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2019.
Furthermore, the committee points out that “too often, the federal government’s scientific expertise was not available or available to support its work.” However, such access was provided, can we read in the 234-page document. “In particular, it was initially envisioned that government experts would be directly involved in the planning of different components of the regional assessment, in the data analysis and in the writing. With a few notable exceptions, this has not happened. This is an unsustainable situation which has greatly hampered efforts, “said the report.
The government for its part said Thursday that its new regulations were “informed by the opinions of stakeholders obtained during extensive public consultations on the working document on the draft ministerial regulation”. Public consultations on the draft regulation were conducted at the height of the COVID-19 national crisis.
Environmental groups have also launched legal action challenging this new regulation, which exempts future drilling from an environmental assessment. “The new Impact Assessment Act was put in place to protect the environment, improve the assessment process and make decisions more transparent,” recently recalled James Gunvaldsen-Klaassen, counsel for Ecojustice.
However, “one of the first acts of the government under this new law was to exempt from an assessment” the future drilling planned in an “important” ecological zone, and this, “at the time of the climate emergency”.
The leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, denounced Thursday the new federal regulation. “What a bad read from where the world is going in general. While the planet is watching COVID-19, while the planet is also watching a civil crisis in the United States, we are going to subtract environmental protection measures up to 100 exploratory oil drilling at sea. What disconnection of the reality of people’s concerns, “he told Le Devoir.
Environmental groups also deplored this decision by the federal Liberals. “A fair and green stimulus must turn its back on any new fossil fuel project. The lack of rigorous environmental assessments for these projects threatens the fulfillment of our climate commitments and increases the risks linked to oil spills and seismic bombings that could affect some whales already threatened, “said Greenpeace spokesperson, Patrick Bonin.