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no clean oil

Storm of the Century, an Annual Event?

Canada’s approval of Bay du Nord project shows the government still not taking climate change seriously

In September 2022, Hurricane Fiona crashed into the east coast of Canada leaving a path of destruction in its wake. High winds, in excess of 100 km/hour, battered homes and blasted ocean waves onto land, eroding coastlines, ripping roofs off their trusses, and dragging structures out to sea. Trees and powerlines were felled leaving thousands of people without power for more than a week, blocking roadways, and crushing buildings. Emergency kits meant to last for 72 hours ran dry and people risked the dangerous post-storm conditions to resupply. Store shelves were quickly emptied of emergency supplies as people panic-purchased whatever was available. Generators were a high-demand item, and people idled in line for gasoline for hours only to find that the pumps had run out. Hardest-hit communities were placed under a state of emergency in the days and weeks following.

This drone still shows the damage caused by Fiona in Port aux Basques. (Yan Theoret/CBC)

Fiona was a historic storm: the deepest low-pressure system ever recorded in Canada with the highest water levels made worse by heavy rains. Estimates put the insured cost of the damage at $660 million – but that number woefully understates the true costs. Many people were uninsured or unable to recoup losses through insurance. People were left without income and vital goods and services, as businesses were shuttered. Fishers whose gear and staging areas were damaged or lost wonder how they will work in the coming season. There has been talk of retreat from high-risk areas which would dismantle communities that have existed for generations. People in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec are still recovering from the disaster.

Extreme weather events are becoming all too common. Wildfires and atmospheric rivers have devastated western communities in recent years, and flooding and tornados are becoming more frequent across the country.

In the face of climate disaster, Canada has chosen to forge ahead with more fossil fuel projects

Despite the warnings of scientists, academics, and grassroots organizers, and multiple reports from the IPCC and others, governments in Canada continue to ignore the advice of experts and support the development of new fossil fuel projects.

In the two months since Fiona hit, Equinor has begun drilling at Bay du Nord off the coast of Newfoundland, having received federal project approval in April. Steven Guilbeault, federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada wrote in his decision approving the project that, Bay du Nord is “not likely to cause any significant adverse environmental effects.” It is difficult to reconcile Guilbeault’s words with the IPCC’s assertion that any new fossil fuel projects spell environmental disaster. Part of the disconnect inevitably comes from claims that Newfoundland oil is clean and has a green advantage. Pollution generated from Bay du Nord oil extraction is purported to be about 10 per cent of the pollution produced in extracting oil from the Alberta tar sands.

There is no such thing as clean oil, period.

This greenwashing fails to account for emissions resulting from the transportation of crude to processing facilities, downplays the potential risks of ocean spills, and completely ignores downstream emissions – those produced in burning the oil.

The approval of the Bay du Nord project has marked the Atlantic Provinces as open for business for the fossil fuel industry

Since the project’s approval, petroleum boards (joint projects of the federal and provincial governments) in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia announced new calls for bids for offshore drilling licenses. Nova Scotia’s deadline for bids has yet to pass but Newfoundland and Labrador announced the conferral of five new licenses this month – three of them going to Bay du Nord project operator, Equinor.

Oil is not the only fossil fuel sparking interest in the Atlantic provinces. The federal government met with German Chancellor Schultz in August about potential east coast LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) exports to Europe. Community groups in Nova Scotia are concerned that the previously abandoned Goldboro project will be resurrected, and the government refuses to assuage those concerns. In New Brunswick, shale gas and fracking are back on the table according to Premier Higgs who is promoting natural gas as a viable alternative that is cleaner than oil. Extraction of LNG causes groundwater contamination, adds methane to the atmosphere, exposes workers and communities to toxic chemicals, and fracking can lead to increased earthquakes. It isn’t green or clean, and regardless of how proponents spin the story, we don’t need new oil and gas projects. We need a just transition that will allow us to wind down the fossil fuel industry as we reduce our reliance on it. If we do not make real, measurable, immediate advancements to address climate change, extreme weather events like Hurricane Fiona will only increase in frequency and ferocity.

Webinar: Impacts of offshore drilling on biodiversity / Les impacts de l’exploitation pétrolière sur la biodiversité marine

December 13, 2022 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
The event is bilingual and is also held online.

Location: Room SH-4800 of the Sherbrooke pavilion of UQAM, 200 Sherbrooke West, Montreal, QC, H2X 1X5

Mary Best
Mary Best

Mary is the Atlantic Regional Organizer for the Council of Canadians.

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