Feds approve offshore oil project days after IPCC begged world to say no to oil and gas

The same week UN Secretary-General António Guterres called countries moving to increase fossil fuel production “dangerous radicals,” the federal government has approved Canada’s first deepwater drilling site — Bay du Nord.

On Wednesday, Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault announced he’s determined the project, about 500 kilometers east of St. John’s, “is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

Although there are offshore projects near Newfoundland and Labrador, this would be the deepest and farthest away. Bay du Nord would see drilling take place at a depth of up to 1,200 meters, compared to other current offshore operations, which drill at 100 meters and under.

Those opposed to the project have been ramping up action, calling attention to the 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide the project is set to add to the atmosphere each year. They point to the irony of locking Newfoundland and Labrador into a 30-year-long oil project when experts say the province really needs support for a just transition to clean energy.

The decision is all the more jarring because it was released the same week as the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and shortly after Canada’s new climate plan, says Caroline Brouillette, national policy manager for Climate Action Network Canada.

“UN Secretary-General António Guterres said it most clearly: for us to be approving new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness,” she says.

“Such investments will soon be stranded assets… It’s heartbreaking that our government would double down on fossil production and expansion.”

Norwegian energy giant Equinor and its partner company Husky will operate the Bay du Nord project, which includes numerous exploration and discovery licences, the creation of a floating oil production station and the drilling of up to 40 wells in the Flemish Pass Basin. On March 4, the federal government delayed a decision on the project for 40 days to consider whether it would have “significant adverse environmental effects.”

Guilbeault’s environmental decision statement was posted with conditionsincluding requiring Equinor to develop a “marine mammal and sea turtle monitoring plan” and a requirement that the project would be net zero emissions by 2050.

Those opposed to the project have been ramping up action, calling attention to the 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide the project is set to add to the atmosphere each year. However, groups like @SierraClubACC say the fight isn’t over.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Premier Andrew Furey has been vocal about his support for the project, which he sees as necessary for the health of the province’s economy. He’s touted it as a green project, which Brouillette says is impossible.

“This has been promoted as a net-zero project. And obviously, that’s only when we exclude Scope 3 emissions. We know that the largest proportion of emissions from fossil production happens downstream when that product is burned,” she said.

“… There’s only one atmosphere that knows no borders.”

The Sierra Club is also speaking out against the move and calling on government leaders to oppose the project. Conor Curtis, digital communications co-ordinator with the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, notes Equinor has an opportunity to change gears with this week’s announcement from the NL government that the ban on offshore wind farms will be lifted.

“Equinor could do the right thing here, they could show they really care about the climate, withdraw from the Bay du Nord project, and instead propose an offshore wind project for Newfoundland and Labrador,” he says.

“We are glad that due to public pressure, NL’s government has finally ended a 15-year ban on building wind energy off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador this week. This would be a timely and ethical decision for Equinor to make. Personally, to see youth confront the environment minister on this and then to see their futures endangered by this project is an act of extreme climate hypocrisy.”

The Sierra Club Canada Foundation, which has hosted panels and actions against the project, says the fight isn’t finished, but rather, “momentum is building against Bay du Nord. Nobody is fooled by the greenwashing.”

The group points to a heavily criticized environmental assessment as further proof the project should not move forward. Gretchen Fitzgerald, national program director at the foundation, also points to the recent IPCC report.

“This decision is a cowardly abdication of the need to confront climate change… Bay du Nord also places whales, deep sea corals and other ocean life at risk from spills, noise and vessel traffic,” she says.

“We cannot allow this approval to stand and will be working tirelessly to ensure the project does not proceed.”

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