The Montreal Gazette reports today that, “In the last session, Parliament passed legislation that makes a number of changes to how environmental assessments are conducted, including putting the National Energy Board in charge of assessing energy projects within its jurisdiction. Previously, such projects would normally be assessed by a joint review panel appointed by the federal environment minister.”
More specifically, as we noted in our budget day analysis on March 5, “The Harper government wants to support (’global investment’ in ‘our abundant energy potential’) by accelerating ‘regulatory reviews of major energy projects’. It says ‘responsibility for conducting environmental assessments for energy projects will be delegated from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for projects falling under their respective areas of expertise.’”
Concerns are now growing about the membership of the National Energy Board.
The Globe and Mail reported in early-July that, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper is relying for advice on the National Energy Board, many of whose board members come straight from the energy sector. …There are no environmentalists or northern residents represented on the National Energy Board. …Several current NEB members worked in the industry before their appointments, or with Alberta provincial regulators that have green-lighted resource projects.”
The NDP has demanded that the Harper government, “broaden the membership in the NEB for the purposes of its Arctic offshore review, to include representatives from all relevant federal and provincial bodies, the scientific community, First Nations, Inuit, Métis, industry, and environmental non-governmental organizations.” NDP leader Jack Layton has stated that the National Energy Board’s makeup is not “representative enough to provide the kind of review Canadians want for oil and gas activities in the Arctic offshore.”
Today’s Montreal Gazette article notes that, “Since the Conservatives took power in February 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet has made 25 appointments to the boards of the National Energy Board, which regulates offshore petroleum exploration on Canada’s Arctic and West coasts, and the two federal-provincial agencies that regulate drilling off the East Coast: the Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board and the Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. …Most of the individuals appointed by the Harper government to the agencies that oversee offshore-petroleum drilling in Canada are former industry insiders or government officials with no stated experience in environmental issues.”
Why should we be concerned by this?
Oil and gas corporations have been lining up to exploit the 90 billion barrels of ‘technically recoverable’ oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Arctic.
Earlier this month, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs announced that Chevron had won an exploration license for 205,000 hectares of seabed about 100 kilometres north of Herschel Island in the Beaufort Sea. In 2008, BP acquired three licenses for exploration rights in a 6,000 square kilometre area about 180 kilometres off the coast of the Northwest Territories in the Beaufort Sea. Imperial Oil and ExxonMobil Canada have also secured exploration rights.
In the last federal budget, the Harper government said, “the resource potential in Canada’s North is world-class” but that “potential investors in northern resource projects face complex and overlapping regulatory processes.” To remove these “unpredictable, costly and time-consuming” protections, they committed to spending $11 million over two years “to support the acceleration of the review of resource projects in the North.”
In late-May, Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom wrote, “Until the Gulf spill occurred, Ottawa’s National Energy Board appeared poised to give Arctic drillers – including BP – an exemption from crucial environmental safety rules, simply because they found them inconvenient. Canada’s federal government is quietly pushing ahead with plans to give the oil industry a double boost – first by giving the more pliant NEB sole responsibility for the environmental assessment of Arctic oil proposals; second by letting the cabinet exempt some projects from scrutiny altogether. …The politicians and their oil friends calculate – probably correctly – that a year from now the Gulf spill will be forgotten, the media will again be focused on Tiger Woods’ sex life and few will be paying attention to who regulates what in the Beaufort Sea.”
Today’s Montreal Gazette article is at http://www.montrealgazette.com/technology/Offshore+drilling+watchdogs+mostly+industry+friendly/3398483/story.html. The Globe and Mail article from early July is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/energy-panels-a-world-apart/article1632251/?cmpid=rss1. Thomas Walkom’s column is at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/arctic/article/816083–walkom-threat-of-oil-spill-disaster-worse-in-canada.
To read our ‘Arctic Moratorium Now!’ web-page, please go to http://canadians.org/energy/issues/climatejustice/arctic.html.