Premier Dwight Ball and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady say exploratory wells need to be exempt from automatic environmental impact statements.
Ball and Coady presented to the Senate committee examining Bill C-69 on Thursday, which seeks to introduce new regulations for environmental impact assessments, among other changes.
In his prepared remarks, Ball says the bill as it stands would “increase regulatory burden, costs and timelines, without enhancing environmental outcomes.”
“Exploration is a short-term, well-understood activity that precedes subsequent development
and production phases of a project, and exploratory wells are routinely subject to comprehensive mitigation measures as a matter of course,” said Ball.
“To put this in perspective, requiring exploratory-well drilling to undergo impact assessment by a review panel could take as long as 870 days, while the activity itself might only last a couple of months.”
Ball says oil companies are expressing concerns over investing in the province’s offshore because of existing regulations. He pointed to the United Kingdom and Norway, who he says move exploratory-well drilling through the assessment phase in months.
Ball says exploratory wells should not be subject to impact assessments, as the practice and associated environmental impacts are already “well understood.”
“We believe it is possible to balance environmental protection, with responsible resource development, and we would argue that finding this balance is an indispensable economic imperative,” said Ball.
Coady told the committee changes to the environmental assessment process should include enhancing the role of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) to give the board more authority in offshore regulation.
“It is critical that the federal government enhance the opportunities to incorporate the C-NLOPB in the new process to the fullest extent possible. Their authority should be enshrined in legislation and not regulations,” said Coady.
Ball said his and Coady’s position complement statements from Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Referencing statements from the 2018 Fall fiscal update, Ball says the federal government has committed to establishing an external advisory committee to examine the regulatory structure for offshore oil and gas development in order to “streamline regulations in a way that balances the health and safety and environmental protection with business realities.”
So far, no details on when such a review will begin have been made available.
Ball and Coady highlighted just how much the province relies on the offshore oil and gas industry as part of their remarks, noting the natural resource sector is the “foundation of our province’s economy.”
Coady says less than seven per cent of the offshore industry has the potential for over 49 billion barrels of oil and 193 trillion cubic feet of gas.
As of December 2018, Coady says more than 7,000 people work in the offshore industry, with 90 per cent of those people living in Newfoundland and Labrador.
On mining, Coady says 5,100 people are directly employed from such operations, with total forecasted employment for 2019 up to 6,300 workers – up eleven per cent from 2018.
The Senate will continue its work on Bill C-69, which has been given third reading and awaits senate amendments.