Environment and Climate Minister Steven Guilbeault has announced a 40-day delay, until April 13, in his assessment of Norwegian state fossil Equinor’s plan to extract up to a billion barrels of crude from its proposed Bay du Nord oilfield off the coast of Newfoundland.
In a release Friday, Guilbeault said he would need the extra time to assess whether the project would likely produce “significant adverse environmental effects,” CBC reports.
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The decision was originally due December 6, then postponed to March 5, the news story states. Past reports have had Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland supporting the project, along with Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, while cabinet members from Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia opposed it. Last week, nearly 200 environmental and citizens’ groups from Canada and beyond urged Ottawa to reject the mammoth project.
O’Regan, a St. John’s-area MP and former natural resources minister who had previously championed Bay du Nord, was more circumspect in a February 10 message to CBC. An assistant “said that the minister could not comment because the project is ‘under active review’,” the national broadcaster writes.
Equinor told CBC it was disappointed by the delay, but still optimistic about finding a way forward for the project. “The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada assessment concluded that ‘the Bay du Nord Development Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, taking into account the implementation of mitigation measures’,” the company said in a statement.
Paul Barnes, director of Atlantic Canada and Arctic for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said he still had confidence in the project, but was concerned about the second delay. “It sends the wrong signal, basically, to the international investment community,” he told CBC. “Companies that want to move energy projects here go through a very lengthy system and still there’s no clarity as to when a decision can be made.”
Barnes said the pace of the decision—not the mounting evidence from international agencies showing the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground—might have an impact on future fossil exploration off the Newfoundland coast.
“There’s a lot at stake,” he said. “Companies who are planning to do exploration activity in Newfoundland will look at this and say, ‘Well, why would I want to explore here knowing that if I find something and wish to develop it, I may never get approval to develop it?’”