Posted on May 11, 2022 (updated: May 12, 2022)

Environmental groups going to court to overturn the federal government’s approval of Bay du Nord

Projections in Stavanger, Norway on Equinor’s headquarters.
Projections in Stavanger, Norway on Equinor’s headquarters.

Project approval fails to account for impact of downstream emissions

ST JOHN’S, N.L./TRADITIONAL TERRITORY OF THE BEOTHUK AND MI’KMAQ –  Environmental groups are challenging the Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s decision to approve Equinor’s Bay du Nord, a controversial $12-billion oil and gas project off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.  

Ecojustice, on behalf of Équiterre and Sierra Club Canada Foundation, filed the lawsuit against Minister Guilbeault in Federal Court on May 6th. The groups say 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.

Minister Guilbeault approved the Bay du Nord project just days after a pioneering 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.

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.

Equinor’s AGM in Norway faces opposition from environmental groups and public

Yesterday, the night before Equinor’s Annual General Meeting in Norway, a striking projection onto the AGM building and other landmarks in Stavanger featured testimony from Canadians opposing the Bay du Nord project. Canadians sent messages to Norway about Bay du Nord’s risks to marine habitat and the climate, as Equinor considers a final investment decision in the project. High resolution photos of the projection are available for download.

On Wednesday May 11, Canadian environmental organizations placed a full page ad in Stavanger Aftenblad, the daily newspaper in the city where Equinor’s AGM is taking place. Featuring a photo of Newfoundland’s coastline, the ad asks the Norwegian people to help Canadians stop Bay du Nord to protect our environment. In tandem with this, concerned citizens will be protesting at Equinor’s Canadian office in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador at 12 p.m. NDT. 

The environmental groups involved in the lawsuit released the following statements:

James Gunvaldsen Klaassen, lawyer, Ecojustice said:

“The Minister’s decision to approve the Bay du Nord project is short-sighted and fails to account for the significant downstream emissions that would be generated by this mega project.

“The federal government has made many promises to do its part to tackle climate change, but as this decision demonstrates, those promises are more talk than action at this stage. We cannot ignore downstream emissions when assessing projects like Bay du Nord. The projects we generate in Canada have a global impact and we must stop exporting our emissions and climate crisis overseas for others to deal with while continuing to profit at home.

“The government has acknowledged that our window for mitigating the worst impacts of climate change is rapidly closing, and meeting critical long-term objectives requires immediate action. Bay du Nord will lock the province and Canada into further dependence on fossil fuels at a time when the science demands we transition away from fossil fuels towards cleaner, sustainable energy sources.”

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

“Just days before Bay du Nord was approved, the UN Secretary General said investing in new oil projects was  ‘moral and economic madness’ – so we really had no choice but to challenge this  approval. Canada needs to stop breaking its climate promises and protect communities from the impacts of runaway climate change such as coastal flooding, unprecedented storms, loss of ice cover needed for traditional hunting and fishing, and disrupted supply chains. We also need to get off the downward spiral of boom and bust that will only become more and more precarious as  oil markets decline. We know there are better and safer pathways for workers in the fossil fuel sector to be part of growing opportunities in wind, solar, and energy efficiency. We will continue to push for much-needed government funding for these opportunities as we fight this project tooth and nail.

“Not only did the project assessment disregard greenhouse gas emissions, the environmental assessment also ignored the advice of government scientists regarding the risk to marine mammals – including endangered species- and threats to deep sea corals and sponge habitats. At depths of over a kilometre, the project is the deepest production drilling project in Atlantic Canada’s history and it would take 18-36 days to get a capping stack on site in the case of a disaster similar to the Deepwater Horizon. An uncontrolled blowout in the middle of the North Atlantic with oil spilling uncontrollably for weeks to months would be a catastrophe for fisheries and ocean life – not to mention Canada’s international reputation.”

Colleen Thorpe, Executive Director, Équiterre said:

“Greenlighting Bay du Nord will delay the transition and lock the communities of Newfoundland and Labrador into a fossil-fuel based economic growth. This project approval disregards the many warnings scientists have been giving and it is not only inconsistent with our domestic and international obligations but also immoral towards present and future generations. Bay du Nord poses a threat to our marine ecosystems and diminishes our goals of reducing GHG emissions. Considering all the long-term impacts, we have no choice but to seek this judicial review in federal court.”

A media backgrounder with more information on the Bay du Nord project, offshore oil and gas expansion in Newfoundland and Labrador, and additional legal challenges faced by Equinor in Argentina is available for download.

The press release is available for download in French.

For media inquiries

Zoryana Cherwick, Communications Specialist | Ecojustice 
1-800-926-7744 ext. 277, zcherwick@ecojustice.ca  

Gretchen Fitzgerald, National Program Director | Sierra Club Canada Foundation
gretchenf@sierraclub.ca cell/ WhatsApp: +1-902-444-7096 

Anthony Côté-Leduc, Media Relations | Équiterre
acoteleduc@equiterre.org, (514) 605-2000

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