Three leading environmental organizations are criticizing Ottawa’s decision to hand over C$320 million to the offshore oil sector in Newfoundland and Labrador, after a federal science review found fault with a new regulation that permits new exploratory drilling projects without further environmental assessment or public input.
The report from the science branch of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans “was a review of a draft version of the regional assessment (RA) of the province’s offshore exploratory drilling,” the St. John’s Telegram reports, in a story republished by the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. “That assessment was published in February, and led to a new regulation that allows exploratory drilling projects to proceed without further environmental assessment or public input as long as they meet a set of minimal requirements.”
While the new Impact Assessment Agency of Canada said the regional assessment was meant to improve the efficiency of review processes offshore while maintaining a high standard of environmental protection, “DFO Science’s review found that information used in the assessment was incomplete and outdated, adversely affecting reliability and credibility to an extent that could affect the appropriateness of the assessment’s recommendations,” the Telegram writes.
In a release last week, Halifax’s Ecology Action Centre (EAC), the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, and WWF Canada said the federal government appeared to have accepted the regional assessment without seeing to it that DFO’s concerns were addressed. They added that the assessment process was rushed, taking less than a year to complete for an offshore area larger than Alberta.
For its part, DFO said the 30 days available for its own review made it difficult to do thorough or detailed work.
“The report written by DFO experts should be alarming to anyone with an interest in protecting Atlantic Canada’s offshore environment,” said EAC Senior Marine Coordinator Jordy Thomson. “An exemption regulation based on such a flawed use of science should not be allowed to stand.”
“We see the decisions that have been made most recently about the funding that would be provided to spur exploration in Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore as an extension of the poor decision-making that was evident with the finalization of the regional assessment, and the loophole regulation that was created based on the regional assessment that allows the broad exemption of future offshore exploratory drilling in the region,” agreed Sigrid Kuehnemund, WWF-Canada’s vice-president of wildlife and industry.
When Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan announced the federal bailout last month, Climate Action Network-Canada Executive Director Catherine Abreu called the decision “demoralizing”, noting that it contained no guarantee the funds would be used to make the industry cleaner.
“The money went to the province with no strings attached,” she said at the time. “If you’re serious about a green recovery, you have to develop a series of clear and transparent expectations that you put around this kind of support.”