Protecting ocean biodiversity in Newfoundland and Labrador’s waters from risky offshore oil drilling

Photo by Whit Welles Wwelles14 | CC-BY-SA 3.0
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The Grand Banks and the open ocean off the eastern coast of Newfoundland and Labrador are one of the most important marine environments in the world and home to a wide assortment of ocean life, from the endangered cod to humpback whales, corals and sponges.

Despite the ecological importance of Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore waters, in February 2018, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced a plan to increase oil production in the region and allow more than 100 new offshore exploratory wells by 2030. After announcing this plan, the federal and provincial governments launched a Regional Impact Assessment (RIA), a participatory process designed to assess the cumulative effects of a proposed development on a particular region or ecosystem.

At the end of a process fraught with unfairness, the RIA report concluded that it was unable to analyze the risk to ecology in the subject area and the cumulative effects of offshore drilling – even though the science is clear that increasing offshore oil drilling exploration poses a direct threat to marine ecosystems and undermines Canada’s stated commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

This deficient report is the product of a flawed process that failed to provide opportunities for substantive public engagement on important environmental issues. Despite the urgency of the dual biodiversity and climate crises, the federal government has used the flawed assessment to create a dangerous exemption regulation and plans to use it to waive individual assessments for a slew of exploratory drilling projects. A blanket exemption of this nature, based on this flawed RIA, is unlawful and sets a dangerous precedent for future blanket exemptions.

All offshore oil exploration must be subject to proper environmental assessment.

The new Impact Assessment Act was introduced to protect the environment, improve the assessment process, and make decisions more transparent. The federal government’s actions in Newfoundland and Labrador flies in the face of this intention.

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and all Canadians, should be able to trust that projects will only proceed if they pass a proper assessment and their effects on the environment are properly accounted for.

A win in this case would ensure environmental laws, like the Impact Assessment Act, are properly applied to projects that pose greater risks to our environment.

Vitally, a win would safeguard this important marine ecosystem from risky offshore oil exploration.

Ocean ecosystems are already being disproportionately impacted by increasing levels of greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in a massive loss in marine life. It is paramount that we use all the tools in our legal toolkit to ensure that precautionary steps are taken to protect against biodiversity loss and tackle the climate emergency.

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