Oil company and province face off in access dispute

ATIPPA case set for hearing in Supreme Court in October

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on September 10, 2014
Enegi Oil’s area of activity in western Newfoundland includes an onshore production licence (PL 2002-01), on the Port au Port Peninsula. This area includes a known oil discovery at Garden Hill South and prospective exploration areas. The company has indicated plans for future work in the area, adding a farm-in agreement with Black Spruce Exploration in 2013.

The provincial Department of Natural Resources, Nalcor Energy and U.K.-based Enegi Oil are headed for a showdown in Supreme Court over the province’s response to an access to information request.

Enegi Oil filed a request with the province in November 2012, seeking a variety of materials. The information collectively relates to oil exploration and production rights in western Newfoundland.

After some back and forth, Enegi received more than 250 pages from the province in early March 2013.

But there were redactions.

Blacked-out sections covered a mix — from simple names and contact emails to single paragraphs and full pages within the documentation.

The Department of Natural Resources argues the redactions cover policy deliberations and commercially sensitive information of Nalcor Energy and third-party companies.  

Enegi believes the government has unreasonably withheld information, as stated in a notice of appeal, filed with the court shortly after the response was received.

The case will be heard in October.

Enegi is active in the province as an onshore oil exploration company, but also as a producer. It maintains a production licence on the Port au Port Peninsula, along with exploration prospects. It has invested millions of dollars in its work in the region.

Contacted for this story, a representative for the company said Enegi would not be commenting beyond what is publicly available in its court filings.

The provincial government has similarly declined comment.

The case as it stands also involves another company — being referred to only by the pseudonym ABC Inc. While not named directly, the company has been awarded a position as intervener.

ABC Inc. is arguing the outcome of the dispute is significant to it, given at least part of the Enegi’s information request would reveal commercially sensitive information of ABC Inc.

The information was placed in the hands of the provincial government with the expectation it would be kept confidential, the company states.

And Nalcor Energy, specifically Nalcor Oil and Gas, has been approved as a second intervener.

“Nalcor Oil has a material interest in the subject matter and outcome of the current appeal, as Enegi is seeking to obtain, through an (access to information) request, information that Nalcor Oil both owns and also believes is commercially sensitive information as defined in the Energy Corporation Act,” the provincial Crown corporation’s submission reads.

Nalcor has declined comment on the case, but a spokeswoman did offer an interview once a judgement was made.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) is not directly involved.

Commissioner Ed Ring confirmed the redactions were never appealed to his office. “As of right now, we would not have had the benefit of reviewing any of the information that would have been denied to the applicant,” he said this week.

The OIPC does not have the power to compel the release of documentation under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPPA), but does offer to assist individuals and companies seeking information. The office is notified when there is an appeal made to the courts concerning the ATIPPA.

The dispute comes during a review by the province of ATIPPA legislation, including consideration of privacy protections for third parties doing business with government.


A chairman’s update

Enegi has been involved in another court action with the province, involving a dispute over the size its licence area of operations on the Port au Port Peninsula. The licence comes under the province’s Petroleum and Natural Gas Act.

Meanwhile, the company is evaluating its business interests in the province.

A “chairman’s update,” a written statement, issued Aug. 29, stated Enegi is giving consideration to an offer that would see the company partially divest itself of its interests in western Newfoundland.

There is no word on who was looking to do the deal and what exactly might be involved.

Enegi has refused further comment at this time.

The company is currently working with Black Spruce Exploration on the Port au Port Peninsula, under a farm-in agreement. That agreement started after Enegi launched its court challenge over access to information, according to Black Spruce president and CEO David Murray.

Murray said his company has been in discussions with Enegi regarding the future. He would not comment on whether or not Black Spruce has made the offer currently under consideration by Enegi.