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NEWS: National Energy Board ‘not representative enough’ for Arctic review

The Globe and Mail reports that, “While U.S. President Barack Obama has appointed a panel of prominent people with virtually no ties to the industry (to review offshore oil and gas drilling in the United States), Prime Minister Stephen Harper is relying for advice on the National Energy Board, many of whose board members come straight from the energy sector.”

In the United States, “Mr. Obama has appointed a group that includes an environmental activist and oceanographer but no engineers or industry experts to provide guidance on how to best manage the inevitable risk that accompanies deep-water drilling offshore. But in Canada, …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.”

“In a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton urged the government to expand both the membership and the scope of the NEB review, which gets under way next week. The board’s makeup is not ‘representative enough to provide the kind of review Canadians want for oil and gas activities in the Arctic offshore,’ Mr. Layton said in the letter… And he urged the government to postpone the issuance of new exploration licences in the Beaufort Sea, also scheduled for later this month, until all relevant questions are answered.”

“In an interview, Mr. Layton said the National Energy Board has traditionally been close to the industry and operates under a weak environmental mandate. Its role has now been expanded not only with the offshore review but with the government’s legislation that anoints the board as the single federal regulator for oil and gas projects.”

Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom has written that, “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 opposition Liberals, desperate to avoid an election they might lose, are refusing to block either. 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.”

And 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’, like the environmentally-destructive projects in the tar sands. 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.’ The government also says ‘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 will spend $11 million over two years ‘to support the acceleration of the review of resource projects in the North’. This undoubtedly is driven by the US Geological Survey reporting in July 2008 that the Arctic Circle has 90 billion barrels of ‘technically recoverable’ oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.”

OUR DEMAND

On March 25, the Council of Canadians, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the REDOIL Network issued an open letter to the foreign ministers of Canada, the United States, Denmark, Norway and Russia just prior to their Arctic Summit in Chelsea, Quebec.That letter urged them to pursue a moratorium on all new exploration for fossil fuel resources in the Arctic region.

We will continue to campaign vigorously on this and intend to be at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting when these issues are discussed in Nuuk, Greenland on May 12, 2011.

MORE INFORMATION

For our five reasons to support a moratorium in the Arctic, plus additional information and how to take action, please go to http://canadians.org/arctic.

For campaign blogs related to Arctic drilling, please go to http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?s=%22arctic%22.