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press release

Fed’s approval of controversial Bay du Nord project faces scrutiny in court 

February 28, 2023

Project spells disaster for climate and local ecosystems, groups say 

OTTAWA/TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF THE ALGONQUIN ANISHNAABEG PEOPLE –  Environmental and Indigenous groups are in Federal Court this week, challenging the Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s approval of Bay du Nord, a controversial $12-billion oil and gas project proposed off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The lawsuit was filed by Ecojustice on behalf of Équiterre, Sierra Club Canada Foundation, and Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Incorporated (MTI). The groups say the project’s approval overlooks significant risks the project poses to local ecosystems and fails to account for significant downstream emissions from the project.  

Downstream emissions describe the pollution emitted after the oil has left the extraction site, including refining, transporting, and burning the oil for energy. Despite accounting for 90 per cent of the emissions Bay du Nord would generate, downstream emissions were not considered when the project was approved with 137 conditions — and were likewise excluded from the condition that the project be net-zero by 2050. 

The federal government fell woefully short in its constitutional duty to consult with affected First Nations communities when assessing the impacts of Bay du Nord. Oil spills and increased shipping activity stemming from the project could cause cataclysmic harm to sensitive marine ecosystems and species vital to the economic and cultural well-being of communities. A single oil spill could devastate critical species that migrate through the spill area, including Atlantic salmon, humpback whales, and Atlantic cod, a species currently considered vulnerable to extinction. 

Minister Guilbeault faced widespread backlash from environmental groups and members of the public when the project was first approved in April 2022, just days after the United Nations released a statement saying funding new fossil fuel projects was “moral and economic madness.” 

Ian Miron, lawyer, Ecojustice said: 

“Minister Guilbeault’s decision to approve this massive new oil and gas project is short sighted and not in line with Canada’s climate commitments. Bay du Nord will lock the province and Canada into further dependence on fossil fuels at a time when the science demands we take urgent action against the growing climate crisis.  

“Canada is the only G7 country that has increased its emissions since ratifying the Paris Agreement in 2015; this is coupled with having the highest fossil fuel subsidies and public financing of the oil and gas industry of any G20 country. Canada needs to do better — that starts with following its own laws and considering the real impacts of Bay du Nord.” 

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

“Approving Bay du Nord in spite of science showing that the risk of oil spills from the project are unacceptable and knowing we have no way to contain of clean up a spill once it occurs is beyond reckless. We know there is no room left in the global carbon budget for this project and hope that our arguments will get heard this week in court.”   

Colleen Thorpe, Executive Director, Équiterre said: 

“All promises and commitments made at COPs, be it COP27 on climate or COP15 on biodiversity, must be translated into tangible actions to reduce hydrocarbon production and protect life. Bay du Nord goes against both of these goals: the project undermines our targets for GHG (greenhouse gas) emission reductions and risks irreparable harm to marine life and migratory birds.”   

Chief George Ginnish of Natoaganeg, Co-Chair Chief, Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Incorporated said: 
“The Mi’gmaq communities in New Brunswick are deeply concerned about the impact this project will have on aquatic species. In particular, we raised how the increased shipping involved could negatively impact culturally important species like the Atlantic salmon and the federal government responded by taking marine shipping out of the scope of the impact assessment. They limited a consultation process to suit their needs and the needs of the proponent but have failed to address how this project could negatively affect our rights. The federal government talks about having a comprehensive consultation process but their actions on this file tell another story.” 

Livestream details 

The hearing will be taking place in Ottawa and is open to the public and media to observe both in person and virtually. If you would like to observe the hearing online, you will have to register at least 24 hours in advance on the Federal Court website.