WWF and Ecojustice today welcomed the results of the National Energy Board (NEB) review of Arctic offshore drilling. In particular, WWF and Ecojustice were pleased that the NEB maintained the Same Season Relief Well policy, an important precaution to minimize the risk of a multi-year spill. With this report, the NEB has established comprehensive filing requirements for offshore drilling in the Canadian Arctic.
This report is an important step toward the kind of robust regulatory system needed to prevent disasters like the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill in Canada’s Arctic waters. It will also enhance industry transparency by requiring oil and gas companies to make their safety, emergency and contingency plans public.
“We’re pleased that the NEB chose to maintain its same season relief well policy in the face of industry requests to remove it. This precautionary approach could prevent the irreparable damage of a multi-year blowout.”
“The NEB has done its job of issuing comprehensive filing requirements and ensuring public disclosure of offshore company’s emergency plans. Now the federal government must act where the NEB could not – to fix the offshore liability regime and ensure environmental assessment occurs before offshore exploration rights are issued.”
The Same Season Relief Well policy is a precautionary backstop designed to minimize the chances of a multiple year blowout – oil and gas companies wishing to use alternate technology will have to prove to the NEB that their alternative is equal or superior. The NEB delivered comprehensive filing requirements for offshore drilling in the Arctic, incorporating lessons learned the hard way in recent events.
The NEB has clearly indicated that it will employ safety measures such as operational timeouts and safety stand downs.
While the NEB has presented a strong report, there are still many important issues to be addressed. The NEB will have to weigh the risks to the environment and communities, including the risks of a worst-case spill, when it reviews specific applications for drilling.
Now that the NEB’s report is in place, WWF looks for further action to ensure the safety of the Arctic communities and ecosystems, including:
Further clarification of the limitations of oil spill response capabilities
Environmental assessment at the exploration licensing stage
Increase of the absolute liability limits under the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act
Transparent and effective planning through the Beaufort Sea Partnership to protect particularly sensitive areas
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Ecojustice is Canada’s leading public interest environmental law organization and served as legal council to WWF-Canada in the NEB Arctic offshore review process.