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Environment Groups Appeal Court Approval of Newfoundland Offshore Drilling

A trio of environmental groups is appealing a recent court decision that prioritized efficiency in the processing of exploratory gas and drilling ventures in Newfoundland offshore waters, over ecosystem concerns—and federal climate commitments.

Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre, the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, and World Wildlife Fund Canada are appealing the Federal Court of Appeal’s December decision to uphold both a regional assessment for an exploratory drilling project off Newfoundland, and a 2020 regulation that would exempt all similar projects from future scrutiny, writes Ecojustice, legal counsel for the applicants, in a statement released a few days ago.

In their original lawsuit, the groups argued that the regional assessment, the first conducted under Ottawa’s new Impact Assessment Act, “did not properly consider the cumulative effects of all exploratory drilling projects in the region”. The Act was significantly revamped in 2019, despite blistering opposition from the fossil industry and its political allies, to enable Canada to more fully assess cumulative impacts, especially climate-related ones.

But in December, Justice B. Richard Bell invoked bureaucratic efficiency and fiduciary duty as reasons to uphold the 2020 regulation.

If the appeal fails, the regional assessment will stand as sufficient to allow all future drilling in the area to go forward without any scrutiny, the groups say.

“To address the climate and biodiversity crises, Canada needs impact assessment laws that provide the highest standard of environmental protection,” said Jordy Thomson, Ecology Action Centre’s senior marine coordinator.

“The court’s decision to let the deeply flawed regional assessment for exploratory drilling stand instead props open the door for further degradation of our marine environment and global climate. We are appealing this decision to strengthen the Impact Assessment Act and help safeguard sensitive Atlantic marine life,” Thomson added.