K’JIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – Yesterday, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) released a draft regional assessment (RA) of the impacts of exploratory oil and gas drilling in a 735,000-km2 area offshore of Newfoundland and Labrador.
This RA is the first of its kind. It was begun under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (2012) and completed under the new Impact Assessment Act. According to the report, the federal Minister could exempt future oil and gas projects within the study area from federal impact assessment based on the results of this RA.
However, environmental groups that have participated in the RA process are raising red flags about its narrow scope, incomplete analysis, and the precedent it may set.
“This process was clearly rushed and, as the report itself mentions, it hasn’t involved a full assessment or evaluation of risks, which was part of the committee’s mandate,” says Mike Kofahl, Staff Lawyer with East Coast Environmental Law. “The recommendation that a regional assessment oversight committee be created is a sign that there wasn’t enough time to gather information needed for elected officials to make responsible decisions. It would be unacceptable for future exploratory oil and gas projects to be exempt from federal impact assessment based on this report.”
A key concern of environmental groups is that the report does not recommend banning oil and gas exploration from ecologically sensitive areas.
“The study area includes many sites in Canadian and international waters that governments have established to protect sensitive species like corals and sponges, and it also contains important habitat for larger species including endangered whales,'' says Laura Feyrer, a marine biologist from Dalhousie University, who conducts research in the assessment area. “Allowing seismic activity and drilling in these sites, especially when the fishing industry has agreed to set them aside for conservation, makes absolutely no sense.”
The RA also omits any evaluation of the downstream effects of oil and gas exploration on climate change.
“The mandate of the RA only included the exploratory phase and hasn’t considered the impacts of extraction and burning on our climate,” says Gretchen Fitzgerald, National Programs Director of Sierra Club Canada Foundation. “If these offshore oil resources are developed, it will make it nearly impossible for Newfoundland and Labrador to meet its emissions reduction targets.”
Stephen Thomas, Energy Campaign Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre (EAC), says the reserves that are being explored in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore are a carbon bomb that threatens the safety of communities here at home and across the world. “Burning these reserves would result in more than 14 per cent of the entire globe’s carbon budget to stay below the safe limit of 1.5C of global warming,” says Thomas.
The release of the draft report kicks off a public comment period that ends February 21, 2020.
Jordy Thomson, Marine Science and Conservation Coordinator with the EAC, says it is imperative for the public to weigh in. “Canadians successfully stopped oil and gas from being allowed in marine protected areas in the past, but only by speaking out. We should be supporting a transition away from fossil fuels, not accelerating extraction,” says Thomson. “At an absolute minimum, we need a rigorous and holistic RA process to understand the full range of long-term impacts to the environment, biodiversity and Canadians.”
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