ST. JOHN’S, NL — 24 January 2020
WWF-Canada has significant concerns with the draft regional assessment (RA) of the impacts of exploratory oil and gas drilling off the shore of Newfoundland and Labrador released by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) yesterday.
An appropriate science-based assessment of impacts has not been done and stakeholder feedback has not been meaningfully incorporated into the draft recommendations for the 735,000 square km study area — larger than the province of Alberta. The report does not recommend prohibiting exploratory drilling in sensitive protected areas and does not consider the climate impacts of decades of increased oil extraction and burning.
One recommendation provided to the Minister states that exploratory drilling in the study area should be exempt from project-specific impact assessments if they meet a certain set of conditions. The RA also did not adequately consider the impact of cumulative effects — environmental changes that could occur as a result of multiple activities over the long term.
WWF-Canada does not agree with the recommendations of the RA process.
“It’s concerning that the draft RA recommends that exploration should proceed in data deficient areas and those set aside for protecting marine biodiversity — areas that WWF has long advocated be off limits to oil and gas activity,” says Sigrid Kuehnemund, VP of ocean conservation at WWF-Canada. “Frequent spills in offshore areas prove that there are real risks to the sensitive species that live there. At a minimum, sensitive and data-deficient areas must require site-specific impact assessments, and protected areas must remain off limits to development.”
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has announced initiatives to encourage drilling up to 100 new exploration wells in the area by 2030, which could lead to a tripling of oil production in the province, so it’s imperative that the RA also considers how anticipated development will impact Canada’s ability to meet its climate commitments under the Paris Agreement and stay below 1.5°C of warming.
“The RA dismissed the potential climate impacts of exploratory drilling, but as we know this can lead to production,” says Mark Brooks, specialist of Arctic oil and gas governance at WWF-Canada. “The committee hasn’t considered the climate impacts of extraction and burning of any fossil fuels produced. Development will make it nearly impossible for Newfoundland and Labrador to meet its emissions reduction targets.”
As this is the first RA conducted under the new Impact Assessment Act, which came into effect last year, it could set a precedent for how future RAs across the country are undertaken.
The report clearly implies that more work needs to be done before more exploration drilling goes ahead. The recommendation to create a new oversight committee indicates an uncertainty in the information gathered to date — assessing cumulative effects was “inherently complex and challenging;” properly evaluating risk was “beyond the resources available;” and the required science expertise of the federal government “was not available or accessible to support the work of the Committee.”
WWF-Canada recommends that the Minister of Environment and Climate Change commits to further research before exempting exploration drilling projects from impact assessments given the obvious shortcomings of this report and the admitted data gaps and set aside areas where development should not take place in order to protect sensitive habitats and wildlife.
The report’s release is the start of a 30-day public comment period.
About regional assessments:
The aim of a regional assessment is to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of potential risks and threats to valued components, such as the environment, that will be impacted by a certain type of project at a regional level — in this case, the impacts of all exploratory drilling for oil and gas in a large area off Newfoundland and Labrador, including waters outside Canada’s marine territory. This type of assessment can pre-approve certain types of activities if they meet a set of conditions, meaning that oil and gas companies won’t need to do a project-specific impact assessment to drill exploration wells.
About World Wildlife Fund Canada
WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit wwf.ca.
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For more information:
Tina Knezevic, Communications specialist, WWF-Canada