The controversial Bay du Nord exploration project off the coast of Newfoundland is running into new headwinds in Ottawa, with Environment and Climate Minister Steven Guilbeault busting the myth that new oil and gas wells can help Europe free itself from Russian supplies and the NDP questioning how any new fossil project can align with the government’s climate promises.
On Thursday, Guilbeault appeared before a Senate committee on energy and discussed the Bay du Nord project in the context of the war in Ukraine and helping Europeans reduce their dependence on Russian oil and gas, The Canadian Press reports. He told Sen. Claude Carignan that oil is not a transition energy and the project proposed off Newfoundland’s east coast won’t solve Europe’s energy issues.
“It must be understood that if the Bay du Nord project goes ahead, it could not produce oil before 2028, so I doubt that our European friends and colleagues will wait until 2028 for Canadian oil,” the minister said.
The NDP’s views take on new significance, meanwhile, after the party’s dramatic pledge Tuesday to support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government through to 2025. In exchange, the Liberals have agreed to work with the New Democrats on several priorities, including fighting climate change.
On Wednesday, federal NDP environment critic Laurel Collins said she struggled to see how the Liberals could approve Bay du Nord and have it align with national commitments to limit a rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C.
“The NDP believes we need a concrete and immediate plan to move toward a green and sustainable economy, so the province is not continuously caught in a boom-bust cycle while the rest of the world moves away from non-renewable resources like oil and gas,” Collins told CP in an email.
The provincial Progressive Conservatives have said the deal between the two parties—and the influence it may give to the NDP—could signal the end of Bay du Nord.
Meanwhile, CP says Ottawa has put the brakes on a new call for bids on Newfoundland and Labrador offshore exploration licences. Provincial Energy Minister Andrew Parsons announced Wednesday the federal government has asked for a delay of up to 90 days, saying it needed more time for review.
Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson explained Thursday his department requested the time because some of the areas up for bid overlap with marine protected areas, “and the intentions around marine protected areas.”
Wilkinson told reporters there’s no reason to read anything into the delay, adding they are not unusual. However, a spokesperson for the province’s offshore oil regulator said Thursday this is the first time Ottawa has suspended a call for bids.
But Parsons said he’s unfazed by the New Democrats’ comments, adding that he expected some opposition in Ottawa—especially from the NDP—to Bay du Nord, a massive development that would see Norwegian state fossil Equinor open a new oilfield about 500 kilometres off Newfoundland’s east coast.
“I haven’t had any conversation with the feds per se on this, nor have we been given any indication that the agreement will have any effect on the decision,” he told CP yesterday. “I know we do have federal support, and I know there are obviously people in the federal scene that are against the project. That’s nothing new.”
It will ultimately fall to Guilbeault to arrive at a twice-delayed ruling on the project, determining whether Bay du Nord’s environmental impacts will be “minimal” enough for its development to proceed, CP writes. The minister first asked for more time last December to make his decision, then again in March. His ruling is now expected next month.
Alex Marland, a political science professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, said the delays with Bay du Nord indicate Ottawa is having a “really hard time with this particular issue.”
“Every political party has its kryptonite—something that splits it apart,” Marland said in an interview Thursday. For the Liberals, Marland said, their kryptonite is climate change and their desire to make meaningful headway to combat it, while facing pressure to support oil and gas.
As for the federal NDP’s power to influence the Liberals’ call on Bay du Nord, Marland noted the parties do not have a coalition government, merely an agreement. The New Democrats, he said, are not sitting around the cabinet table.
Marland said the real indication of where the federal Liberals fall on Bay du Nord can be found in their campaign promises.
“They didn’t campaign saying, ‘We are going to support the oil and gas industry,”’ he said. “They campaigned saying they were going to do something about climate change.”
The original version of this report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2022.