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Editorial: Too close for comfort

Friday brought what may be the worst oil spill so far in the East Coast offshore.

Husky Energy’s SeaRose production vessel spilled as much as 250,000 litres of oil into the ocean on Friday morning. Much of that oil is unlikely to be recovered and has instead been widely dispersed. The SeaRose is the same vessel that failed to follow iceberg protocols in March 2017, and was almost hit by an iceberg.

Meanwhile, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) and the provincial government are still tied up in the usual conundrum. That’s the problem of being oil industry proponents, promoters, owners — and regulators.

Three days after the latest spill, provincial Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady was talking tough about the spill in the House of Assembly: “We are going to make sure that the investigation is thorough, as a government … let’s make sure first of all that we contain this oil spill today, and then get to the investigation as to why it occurred and how can we prevent it in the future.”

When the C-NLOPB is an oilfield marketer, it can’t also be an effective environmental and safety regulator.

But not only is Coady the lead point person for the province on oil regulations, she’s also the spokesperson for the province as a shareholder. She’s the central contact for the provincial government’s partnership with Husky Energy — the provincial government negotiated a five per cent stake in the White Rose Expansion project in 2007.

The C-NLOPB? Well, its last significant news release before the spill was one announcing record bids by oil companies for exploration work — the result of the board’s latest marketing of offshore oilfield territory.

And Husky Energy? The oil company is harvesting a resource from this province’s waters, and contaminating those waters with a spill, but didn’t even seem to see much need to explain what happened to the residents of this province before issuing a brief update Monday.

Doesn’t anyone see the disconnect here? Or, more to the point, doesn’t anyone wonder about how interconnected everything is?

Things have to change.

When the provincial government is actively campaigning for faster, cheaper oilfield regulation and much more oil exploration, it can’t also be an effective regulator. When the province holds an equity stake in oilfields and signs contracts that promise, as the Hebron contract does, that the province will, “use all reasonable efforts to assist the proponents in securing commitments from Canada and municipal governments in the province regarding the legal and regulatory framework applicable to a development project,” it can’t be an effective regulator.

When the C-NLOPB is an oilfield marketer, it can’t also be an effective environmental and safety regulator.

It’s time for a completely independent safety and environmental regulator. One with teeth and no messy conflicting interests. 

Because right now, it all looks a little cosy.

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