Exploratory drilling projects in a vast area off the Atlantic coast of the Island of Newfoundland have been excluded from the requirement to undergo a project-specific federal impact assessment.
The exemption, granted by the Excluded Physical Activities (Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Exploratory Wells) Regulations follows a regional assessment of offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling that began in April 2019 and ended in a Final Report in February 2020.
That Final Report has been criticized for failing to consider cumulative effects and to engage the public. It is currently being challenged in the Federal Court of Canada.
East Coast Environmental Law is not part of that challenge. In a statement, staff lawyer Mike Kofahl says: “The regulations as written do not address the serious concerns that were raised during the regional assessment process with respect to climate change or cumulative effects of exploratory oil and gas drilling in the offshore of Newfoundland and Labrador. We are also seriously concerned by the regulations because they do not provide for any future public participation or input on exploratory oil and gas development from the public.”
The exemption, effective June 4, 2020, applies to exploratory drilling only. Proposed offshore oil and gas projects will continue to be subject to project-specific impact assessments.
Exploratory drilling projects are short-term projects and their environmental effects are well understood, according to the federal government. Standard measures have been applied to exploratory projects in the past, with success, it says. In addition, proponents will still have to work with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board and federal authorities to ensure that all exploratory projects comply with required conditions before, during and after drilling.