The federal government and the government of Newfoundland and Labrador have agreed to conduct the first regional assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. The Regional Assessment of Offshore Oil and Gas Exploratory Drilling East of Newfoundland and Labrador will focus on the effects of existing and anticipated offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling in the offshore area east of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The report of the Regional Assessment is due no later than fall, 2019. Should the federal government’s new Impact Assessment Act (Bill C-69) become law before then, the Regional Assessment will continue under the old law. Bill C-69 is currently before the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.
Regional assessments were conceived as assessments that would apply to many projects over a wide area, possibly involving overlapping federal and provincial jurisdiction. Though they would not necessarily pre-empt project-level assessments, it was intended that the regional assessments lighten the burden if project-level assessments were required.
In this instance, however, the federal government intends to exempt new offshore exploratory wells from undergoing a project-specific federal assessment in areas covered by this Regional Assessment, provided the proposed project conforms to the conditions set out in the Regional Assessment. Seven projects are now undergoing specific environmental assessments for exploration drilling in that area, and those assessments will proceed as planned.
“The Regional Assessment is an important step towards exempting routine, low impact activities, such as exploration wells, where potential impacts and standard mitigations are well known, from federal assessment,” said Siobhan Coady, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Natural Resources, in a statement.
The Regional Assessment will be undertaken by a five-member committee led by co-chairs Garth Bangay (environmental consultant) and Wes Foote (former Assistant Deputy Minister of Petroleum Development with the government of Newfoundland and Labrador). The committee will examine the impact of exploratory drilling across a vast expanse of North Atlantic Ocean.
For Newfoundland and Labrador, the Regional Assessment is a piece of its “Advance 2030 — A Plan for Growth in the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industry” to see more than 100 new exploration wells drilled, production of more than 650,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, commercial gas production, and renewables and oil and gas integrated in a world-class energy cluster — all within the next 11 years.