Bay du Nord is the first remote, deep-water oil and gas project in Canada, with reserves estimated between 300 million and one billion barrels of oil. The project, 500 kilometres off Newfoundland’s shores, would see a huge new complex of oilfields with drilling taking place at a depth of 1,200 metres, compared to other current offshore operations, which drill at 100 metres or less.
Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault approved the Bay du Nord project on April 6, 2022, just days after an alarming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that simply cutting emissions was no longer enough to curb the climate crisis and the United Nations chief called funding new fossil fuel projects “moral and economic madness.”
Minister Guilbeault insists Bay du Nord will be required to meet 137 conditions — including a condition that the project be net-zero on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This target, however, fails to account for the massive downstream emissions the project will generate. Downstream emissions are released when the oil & gas is burned.
Ecojustice, on behalf of Équiterre, Sierra Club Canada Foundation and Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc (MTI), filed a lawsuit against Minister Guilbeault’s approval of the project in Federal Court on May 6, 2022. The groups continue to say that the project’s approval clashes with Canada’s international obligations and the urgent call to reduce global emissions as the reality of the climate emergency becomes more distressing with every severe weather event. On June 16, 2023, the court dismissed the case. Undeterred, on September 15, Ecojustice filed an appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal on behalf of MTI and Sierra Club Canada.
Industry and government rhetoric around “clean oil” blatantly ignores the fact that the process of extracting oil only accounts for 10 per cent of the emissions from an oil project, with the other 90 per cent coming when the oil is burned. Recent estimates suggest that over its lifetime, Bay du Nord is projected to produce between 300 million to one billion barrels of oil, which could in turn generate about 400 million tonnes of carbon — that’s the equivalent of the emissions from 7-10 million cars per year.
The Atlantic waters off the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador are one of the most important marine environments in the world and home to a large amount of ocean life from the endangered cod to humpback whales, corals and sponges. A Department of Fisheries and Oceans Science report on the Bay du Nord project identified numerous threats to ocean life, including the risk of an uncontrolled blowout. As the project is located 500 kilometres offshore, Equinor’s own forecasts predict that a blowout at the wellhead causing an uncontrolled release of oil into the sea would take 18-36 days to cap.