In June of this year, the offshore petroleum board for Newfoundland and Labrador issued a "fire sale" Call for Bids for 4 million hectares of ocean space off Newfoundland.
Oil companies wanting to bid were reassured that, thanks to Canada’s attempts at deregulation, they would not even have to bother with an environmental impact assessment before drilling. A loophole created by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change a mere seven days earlier had relieved them of this duty.
Last month, we found out that thankfully only one company responded – but then we took a closer look. The bidder was British Petroleum (BP), the company responsible for the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a disaster that occurred while exploratory drilling was being attempted. And the 264,500 hectare area they bid on overlaps with a marine refuge on one side and extends beyond the 200 mile limit on the other. Both factors should give Canada’s government pause.
Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, experts pointed to BP and its contractor’s lack of effective risk management - and poor regulation on the part of the government - as key factors for creating the conditions under which the disaster occurred.
We see the very same risks being taken here in Canada on the part of our government right now - the only difference being drilling will take place within a marine refuge, an area recognized as significant habitat for deep sea coral and sponges, and in the even more dangerous and remote North Atlantic waters.
Federal deregulation would put the approval of BP's project on warp speed and limit public participation in evaluating the risk to the environment and biodiversity. Along with WWF and Ecology Action Centre and represented by Ecojustice, we are fighting in court Canada's attempts at deregulation for exploratory drilling off Newfoundland. That case is still ongoing, and our legal arguments have not even been presented in court.
But even still, the oil industry, abetted by leadership in Newfoundland and the federal government, wants to keep pushing recklessly ahead.
As the hopes of a revival of Newfoundland’s offshore oil and gas sector dwindle, our worst fear would be that desperation and deregulation could lead to a massive blowout in the North Atlantic – a spill that our experts tell us we have no way to stop for weeks, even months.
The impacts of a massive spill on vital fishing areas and marine life - as well as Canada's international reputation - would be catastrophic. Continuing full speed ahead on fossil fuel extraction when we need to be reducing GHG emissions and supporting a shift for workers and families affected is also a huge mistake.
But we can speak up - and demand the Ministers of Fisheries and Oceans, Natural Resources and Environment and Climate Change stop BP’s plan to drill in a marine refuge.
Please write the Ministers to demand they reject BP's plans to drill.
Gretchen Fitzgerald - National Programs Director