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EDITORIAL: Apology isn’t enough

Husky Energy apologized this week for the largest oil spill in the province’s history — 250,000 litres of oil, water and gas that flowed into the ocean in two separate discharges last month through a damaged connector, 350 kilometres off the coast of St. John’s.

The company calls the spills “fluid releases,” but passive language can’t negate the fact that the oil has been dispersed and can’t be cleaned up in an ocean that is home to fish, seabirds and other marine creatures.

Husky says it is putting measures in place so that it doesn’t happen again.

If the province is satisfied with that, then once again it is signalling that it’s content to let the industry look after itself.

Of course, this province has investments in the industry, so where’s the pressing incentive to toughen up oil and gas environmental safety regulation?

Ditto for the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, which simply cannot be both an effective safety regulator and an oil industry promoter.

Which is why Justice Robert Wells’ 2010 recommendation for an independent environmental and safety regulator for the offshore should not be left to moulder on a shelf.

Wells headed the inquiry into the March 2009 Cougar Helicopters crash offshore that killed 17 people and injured one. He called the need for an independent safety monitor the most important recommendation in his report.

As bad as that spill was, history has shown they can be much, much, worse.

Still, it goes unheeded.

Eight years ago, then premier Kathy Dunderdale stood in the House of Assembly to declare she would be “contacting the federal government to begin discussions about the setup of a stand-alone regulator.”

A year later, the provincial throne speech promised to “bring forward amendments to the Atlantic Accord Act to implement a new Occupational Health and Safety regime for the offshore."

But the province needs the federal government’s support to change the Atlantic Accord, and Ottawa has said that the CNLOPB is itself an effective safety regulator — an opinion echoed by Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady in the House last month.

When Husky Energy had a close call in March 2017, with workers on the SeaRose ordered to “brace for impact” after an iceberg came within 180 metres of the platform and the vessel didn’t disconnect to avoid it, the CNLOPB’s post-investigation report said the board was “confident that safety and environmental protection will remain at the forefront of Husky’s operations going forward.”

But attempting to restart oil production after initial shutdown during what was called the most intense storm on the planet on Nov. 16, and spilling a quarter of a million litres of oil into the ocean, led to pollution — not protection — of the environment. As bad as that spill was, history has shown they can be much, much, worse.

As Wells noted his 2010 inquiry report, “we are beginning to understand that we are all stakeholders now.”

Eight years of talk and no action is too long.

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