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press release

Enviro groups fight unchecked offshore exploratory drilling in court 

March 21, 2023

Enviro groups fight unchecked offshore exploratory drilling in court 

HALIFAX/ TRADITIONAL TERRITORY OF THE MI’KMAQ PEOPLE –  Environmental groups are at the Federal Court of Appeal in Halifax today, fighting to prevent unchecked exploratory oil and gas drilling off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. The groups are appealing a decision issued last year by a lower court upholding a Regional Assessment (RA) of exploratory oil and gas drilling in the region and the regulation exempting future projects from further scrutiny. 

Lawyers from Ecojustice are acting on behalf of Sierra Club Canada Foundation, World Wildlife Fund Canada, and Ecology Action Centre. The RA being challenged is the first to be conducted under the new Impact Assessment Act (IAA). The groups say this RA sets a frighteningly low bar for the standard that Regional Assessments must meet, undermining what could otherwise be a promising protective mechanism under the IAA. 

The groups are also challenging a blanket exemption stemming from the RA, which prevents future exploratory drilling from undergoing additional assessment and shields these projects from public consultation. They say the government failed to consider the cumulative impacts increased industrial activity could have on the sensitive marine ecosystem off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

In the midst of the climate crisis, the federal government must consider the combined effects from past, present, and future offshore drilling activities. Ocean ecosystems are already disproportionately impacted by increasing carbon pollution, resulting in a massive loss of marine life. The groups are calling on the court to step in to protect the at-risk species and vital marine ecosystems in the region. 

Josh Ginsberg, lawyer, Ecojustice said: 

“The Impact Assessment Act came into force in 2019 to better protect the environment, improve the assessment process, and make decisions more transparent. The federal government has championed this law, but its actions in Newfoundland and Labrador directly contradict the purpose of the law it passed. 

“The people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and all people in Canada, must be able to trust that projects will only proceed if they pass a proper assessment and their impacts on the environment are accounted for and mitigated. The decision by the lower court weakens public trust in the effectiveness of the laws intended to protect our environment. This appeal provides a chance to repair that harm.” 

Gretchen Fitzgerald, National Programs Director, Sierra Club Canada Foundation said:

“We know there can be no new drilling if we want to secure a safe future: a fact that becomes clearer with every climate disaster we experience, and every increasingly dire IPCC report released – but a fact ignored by the regional assessment.  I hope we will get a fair hearing this week in court and can secure greater protection for whales, deep sea coral and other ocean life and have a hope of keeping our climate promises.”