Photo: Marcel Mochet Archives Agence France-Presse
At least 100 exploratory drillings are planned by 2030, with the aim of doubling oil production in Newfoundland and Labrador over the next few years.
The Trudeau government is attracting criticism because of its decision to maintain the public consultations which should lead to the elimination of environmental assessments for future exploratory drilling off the coast of Newfoundland. Despite the crisis of coronavirus, the consultation should be complete in ten days. The minister of the Environment, Jonathan Wilkinson, has, however, opened the door Monday to a revision of the ” terms and conditions “.
The Duty published Monday morning, a text that demonstrates that the crisis of the sars coronavirus does not change the plans of the government of Justin Trudeau compared to the drillings carried out in the marine environment in the east of the country. He has decided to continue the public consultation that should lead to the adoption of a regulation that would eliminate environmental assessments required currently for exploratory drilling to the east of Newfoundland. The consultation, which is done exclusively on the Web, should be completed by 3 April.
The current process goes completely unnoticed, but it remains no less crucial for the development of the oil industry. At least 100 exploratory drillings are planned by 2030, with the aim of doubling the oil production of the province during the next few years. The objective would be to produce, after 2030, more than 235 million barrels of oil each year.
The federal move has provoked strong reactions on the part of environmental groups on Monday. “We are in the middle of a pandemic with disastrous consequences for our lives and for our economy. This is not the time to hold public consultations on a project that involves environmental risk to be high and that, in the immediate, does not generate jobs. The maintenance of these consultations is totally inappropriate, ” said Karel Mayrand, director of the David Suzuki Foundation in Quebec.
Greenpeace and Équiterre are urging Ottawa to imitate the government of Quebec, which decided to cancel the evaluation of the gas project LNG Quebec that had to be conducted by the Office of public hearings on the environment, because of the COVID-19. “Bill C-69, adopted by the Trudeau government] has, inter alia, to increase public participation in the environmental assessments, the public health measures by pandemic period does not allow “, stressed the director of government relations of Équiterre, Marc-André Viau.
“It is shocking to note that this consultation is going forward, then, that no emergency justifies, and that we are being hit hard by the crisis of the sars coronavirus “, also criticized the spokesman of Greenpeace for the climate challenges, Patrick Bonin.
Drilling and ” shelters “sailors
The Society for nature and parks in Québec has also criticized the decision of the Trudeau government to open the door to drilling for oil and natural gas properties directly in the “shelter” sailors that he himself has put in place to increase the protection of marine ecosystems.
“By bypassing the steps of environmental assessment and sacrificing shelters sailors for the benefit of the oil industry, the federal government is swimming against the current of science, maintains the cynicism and weakens the new tools of protection of the territory he had himself put in place. This is unacceptable, ” said its director-general, Alain Branchaud.
Until now, an oil company which 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.
For example, the minister Jonathan Wilkinson was approved on march 16, the realization of an important project of 10 exploratory drilling by the oil companies Exxon and Husky Oil, the result of an environmental assessment process that lasted a little over three years.
Things should change shortly. The Trudeau government has in fact 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.
After having received the report of the committee which conducted this regional assessment, the minister Wilkinson was published on march 4, a ” project of regulation “, which stipulates that all exploration wells drilled in the area of 735 000 km2, will be exempted from the review process of the Act on the evaluation of impact. It should be implemented after the public consultation which ends on 3 April. “This consultation is the only opportunity to comment before the entry into force of the ministerial regulation,” says the government.
The minister intends to maintain the public consultations that must be completed by 3 April ? “Public consultation is an essential element of the environmental assessment process. The minister will take a decision, in collaboration with the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, on the modalities of the participation of the public in the coming days for this particular case, ” replied Monday, the press attaché to the minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, Moira Kelly.
The report of the committee of the regional evaluation is also very critical of the process imposed by the Trudeau government. It places particular emphasis on “very short period” that was granted ” to carry out its task “, or about eight months. “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. “
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 “. Finally, the committee ” found it difficult to consider cumulative effects, since these effects are inherently complex and difficult to assess, and manage “. The evaluation of these effects is necessary to understand what will be the consequences of an increase in the number of drilling planned in the next few years.