On Wednesday afternoon, we received the decision from the federal court that, while our case questioning the regulation exempting exploratory drilling from impact assessment was serious enough to warrant judicial review, the exemption itself could come into force even as we continue to pursue the case.
Right on schedule, yesterday, the federal government released its regulation to exempt from impact assessment of exploratory drilling an area the size of Alberta off Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador.
On behalf of Sierra Club Canada Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, and WWF-Canada, our council from EcoJustice had argued that irreparable harm would come if this regulation came into force because:
● the regulation does not ensure offshore drilling will stay within our climate commitments
● the increased risk of more spills in the offshore from accelerating drilling has not been adequately assessed - much less reduced from its current unacceptable level
● coral and sponge beds and areas designated as marine refuges will be damaged by drilling
● the seismic blasting that will precede drilling will impact endangered marine mammals and other ocean life
● opportunities for the public to participate in assessments will be much diminished under this new regulation.
Our arguments failed, not because these risks are not real. Rather, the judge determined that these harms will come not from the regulation or the contended flawed regional assessment itself, but from drilling. That the 144 wells on the books right now for the region might not switch tracks and use the regulation to hasten their approvals. That the time taken for projects to get approval under the new regulation (90 days) could allow enough time for our case to be heard first. And, finally, that we could challenge the regulation itself, once it was released –as it was the following day.
In announcing the new regulation, the federal Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan announced that there are “still decades of oil use" ahead. Minister of Natural Resources for Newfoundland and Labrador, Siobhan Coady who touted the regulation, spoke to a “future of the offshore oil and gas industry of which there is tremendous potential – with over 650 leads identified to date, eight new entrants in the last six years, and resource potential of 52.2 billion barrels of oil and 199.6 trillion cubic feet of gas in just nine per cent of the province's offshore. “
If burned, the oil and gas the accelerated drilling Canada is deliberately trying to unlock will eat up 14% of the global carbon budget we have left, in order to keep us below the 1.5 degrees Celsius target. It would emit 33.38 Billion tonnes of CO2e, equal to 43.44 years of the emissions from Canada’s entire economy today, or enough fuel for 7.1 Billion gas-burning cars on the road for a year - for context, all of Canada has about 22 million cars today. And conservative emissions from production and exploration drilling activities alone will produce 80-88% of Newfoundland and Labrador’s climate target for 2030.
This regulation pours gasoline on the already burning climate emergency.
After bowing to industry pressure twice now – issuing bailout funds of $75 million to Newfoundland’s offshore, and offering this regulatory fast-track, I am concerned that even more subsidies for Newfoundland’s oil industry will follow.
Even though Canadians understand that, as we reconstruct our lives after COVID, a green recovery is the best use of our tax dollars. An Ipsos poll showed that a whopping 84% of Canadians and 85% of Atlantic Canadians say they favour investments that prioritize “green sustainable industries.” Not investing in the same old boom and bust, environmentally-damaging activities that made the pandemic and its fallout even worse.
Next week, we’ll decide on next steps with regard to our legal challenge of this regulation, and how we will make this better.
Meanwhile, I am informed appropriately that a new Grumpy Cat was anointed by the internet today. Sure suits my mood.