Photo: Alexander Shields
The target area for future drilling is assiduously frequented by cetaceans, who are highly vulnerable to the impacts of the oil exploration.
The decision of the Trudeau government to accelerate the drilling in marine environments may need to undergo the test of the courts. Environmental groups have in fact just launched a legal action that challenges a new regulation that should be exempt from future drilling of an environmental assessment.
At the end of march, as the crisis of the COVID-19 took to the scale in Canada, Le Devoir reported that the Trudeau government was continuing its efforts to speed up oil drilling in the marine environment. It had thus decided to maintain the online public consultation which should lead to the adoption of a regulation that eliminates the environmental assessments required for exploratory drilling to the east of Newfoundland. At least 100 of these wells are planned by 2030.
This Tuesday, lawyers from Ecojustice, however, have launched a court action to roll back the federal government. According to what was stated in the organization (representing Ecology Action Centre, Sierra Club Canada Foundation and WWF-Canada), Ottawa has drafted its proposed regulations based on a “regional environmental assessment was deficient,” and this, ” in order to accelerate the drilling in the region “, in addition to creating a “dangerous precedent” in doing so.
“The new Law impact assessment has been put in place to protect the environment, improve the evaluation process and making decisions more transparent,” recalls James Gunvaldsen-Klaassen, a lawyer for Ecojustice. However, “one of the first actions of the government under this new law was to exempt them from an assessment” of the future wells planned in an ecological area “important,” and this, ” in a time of climate emergency “.
This regulation and the ‘readiness to carry out drilling lead us in a direction contrary to the commitments in the climate” of the government, argues the spokesman for Sierra Club Canada, Gretchen Fitzgerald. She adds that the “risks” of spills, but also the potential impacts on all marine life are “too high” to set aside the environmental assessment process for future drilling.
Until now, oil company who wanted to carry out a first project of drilling of an exploration permit located in the waters east of Newfoundland and Labrador was to file a notice of the project 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. This last decided then to allow, or not, the project.
Photo: Government of Canada
Area of 735 000 km2 where the drilling will be exempt from an environmental assessment
The Trudeau government was, however, commissioned in 2019 a ” regional assessment “, which covers a maritime area of more than 735 000 km2 located in the Atlantic. This vast area, which includes the important sector of the commercial fisheries of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, taking many ecological zones of the major and is home to several endangered species. The region is also home to the bulk of the exploration permits held by oil companies in the marine environment in the east of the country.
Once the regulations are in force, a company’s oil or gas must file a “notice” of the project to the government, including technical information. The proponent then worked with the Canada–Newfoundland and Labrador offshore petroleum board, which manages the development of the industry. The organization will have to ensure that the projects ” are implemented in a manner that is environmentally responsible “.
According to the Trudeau government, it is quite reasonable to do so, since the report produced by the “committee” that has led the regional assessment, ” concluded that the effects of exploratory drilling offshore oil and gas are well-known, leading to disturbances in minor, localized, and temporary, and are not likely to be significant if mitigation standards are put in place “.
The report of the committee shows, however, very critical of the process imposed by the federal government. It places particular emphasis on “very short period” that was granted ” to carry out its task “. “This has not only limited the ability of the Committee to prepare the report, but has also reduced the public’s 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 had to be completed in the fall.
Moreover, the committee points out that, ” too often, the scientific expertise of the federal government was not available or accessible in support of its work “. Such access was, however, intended, one can read in the document of 234 pages. “In particular, it has been envisaged, at the outset, that the government experts would participate directly in the planning of different components of the regional assessment, data analysis and writing. With a few notable exceptions, this situation has not materialized. This is an untenable situation which has greatly hindered efforts, ” the report says.
The minister of natural Resources, Seamus O’regan, reacted Tuesday on Twitter, stating simply that” a notice of application for judicial review was filed in the federal Court regarding the process of evaluation of the impact of offshore activities for Newfoundland and Labrador. We are currently in the process of reviewing the application.”
The Trudeau government has also taken a number of actions in favour of oil exploration in the marine environment in the east of the country. The minister of the Environment, Jonathan Wilkinson, for example, has authorized on march 16, the oil Husky Oil and Exxon to conduct at least 10 exploratory drilling in the marine environment by 2027, in an area targeted by the industry located on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, in the Atlantic. Seismic surveys and possible trials of production are also allowed.
According to minister Wilkinson, the new research project of oil and natural gas ” is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects “. Husky Oil and Exxon, two companies active in Canada, have experienced oil spills off the coast of Newfoundland in 2018 and 2019.
Newfoundland and Labrador hopes that at least 100 exploration wells to be drilled by 2030 to increase oil production over the next few years. The objective would be to produce daily more than 650 000 barrels.