BC environmental groups sue federal government over ‘sleeping’ oil and gas permits

The groups allege that the permits could allow exploratory drilling to take place in the biodiversity-rich waters off the coast of British Columbia.

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Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the federal government over “dormant” oil and gas permits that they allege could allow exploratory drilling off the coast of BC.

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The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Federal Court by lawyers for Ecojustice on behalf of World Wildlife Fund Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation, alleges that the permits could allow oil drilling in ecologically sensitive areas, including the Islands Marine Protected Area. Scott and the Straits of Hecate/Queen Charlotte. Sound Crystal Sponge Reef Marine Protected Area.

Both protected areas have “outstanding ecological value and are vulnerable to damage from human impacts, including oil and gas activities,” according to the suit.

The permits, first issued in the 1960s, are held by multinational oil giants Chevron Canada Limited and Exxon Mobil for offshore oil and gas exploration in BC, according to Ecojustice. They were about to expire, but Natural Resources Canada has extended these permits indefinitely.

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The groups argue that extending the permits is illegal because it contravenes Canada’s Petroleum Resources Act, which prevents the minister from extending the term of exploration interests indefinitely.

In extending the permits, the minister “acted unreasonably and without jurisdiction,” the suit says.

Postmedia has contacted Natural Resources Canada, which is named in the lawsuit, for comment.

There are about 50 other “sleeping” permits, also issued decades ago, still on the books, scattered in ecologically sensitive areas along the British Columbia coast and in the Arctic, according to Ecojustice.

Ian Miron, an attorney for Ecojustice, alleges that the federal government has “illegally held these permits on life support” for more than 40 years despite the threat they pose that oil and gas exploration could take place in two of the most biodiverse and sensitive ecosystems in the world. the BC coast.

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“The federal government has committed to protecting 25% of its marine and coastal areas by 2025, working to reach 30% by 2030. Keeping these expired permits active is out of step with Canada’s climate commitments and marine protection goals. biodiversity,” Miron said, in a sentence.

The groups are concerned that the the existence of these permits threatens protected areas. For example, in the Scott Islands, the minister has the power to allow activities that would otherwise be prohibited, which could include exploratory drilling.

They point out that while there is a moratorium on offshore drilling in BC, that moratorium is not legally binding and could be changed by the federal government.

According to the lawsuit, Chevron and ExxonMobil have 20 exploration permits in the two protected areas named in the lawsuit.

The groups are seeking a court order declaring that the extension policy is illegal and that the minister lacks jurisdiction to extend the permits indefinitely.

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