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EDITORIAL: All about oil

Premier Dwight Ball speaks to reporters Monday outside the House of Assembly.
Premier Dwight Ball. — Telegram file photo

Newfoundland and Labrador government cannot boost the industry and regulate it, too

“We do have a shared vision with (the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association) and your members, a vision where Newfoundland and Labrador plays a leading role in the global offshore oil and gas industry.”

That was Premier Dwight Ball at an oil industry conference in St. John’s Tuesday morning.

We are in the midst of a public inquiry into a disastrous energy project that went ahead because the provincial government that was watching over the project desperately wanted it to go ahead regardless.

Now, we have a provincial government whose stated position is to maximize the number of oil exploration projects off our coast, publicly arguing it should have a bigger hand in the regulation of the very projects it wants so very much to go ahead.

Have we learned nothing at all?

To be clear, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with our provincial government having a role in environmental panels examining projects that might directly affect the residents of this province. Representing provincial interests is, after all, what we elect our provincial government to do.

But the moment a government becomes an owner, an investor or a booster, it can no longer honestly act as a dispassionate regulator.

Now, we have a provincial government whose stated position is to maximize the number of oil exploration projects off our coast, publicly arguing it should have a bigger hand in the regulation of the very projects it wants so very much to go ahead.

It is, at that point, a proponent, just like any other proponent. And it should sit on the proponent’s side of the regulatory table.

Think of this: the provincial government wants to build a new mental health facility on a floodplain. Cabinet ministers involved with the decision say a new system of berms will protect the facility, so it’s fine. But the provincial Department of Environment, which is supposed to be regulating whether the berms will even be allowed, hasn’t finished its work yet. With ministers already publicly saying the berms are perfect, well, it looks very much like the decision is in, doesn’t it? Can you trust that the decision is being made for the right reasons?

If you say yes to that, think about a few of these examples.

Should landlords decide whether or not there should be rent controls? Should business owners set the minimum wage? Should employees set the minimum wage? Should an eager investor in a fish farming project decide if that project is environmentally sound?

Should the part-owner of oil projects — and the owner of an oil and gas company, which the provincial government is — sit on environmental panels reviewing whether their own projects should go ahead?

Should foxes manage chicken coops?

Does anyone even know what “conflict of interest” means?

The provincial government might dearly want a seat at the regulatory table — obviously, it would help their petro-dreams, which they have ably laid out, saying “The long-term success of our industry requires an immediate focus on accelerating exploration drilling” that includes 100 new wells by 2030.

But it’s not good, even-handed, trustworthy regulation.

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