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Can Ottawa reverse its decision to approve the Baie du Nord project?

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Maria Gill
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This text is from the Courrier de la Planète on July 12, 2022. To subscribe, click here.

Could citizen pressure be able to make Ottawa back down from the Baie du Nord project? Helen Letourneau asks.

The approval of the Bay du Nord Petroleum project is final and cannot be revoked by the Federal Government unless the company has breached any of the conditions imposed on it. However, environmental groups believe that popular pressure can still push lawns back.

Even if it wanted, the Trudeau government would not have the right to go back to its analysis of the file to arrive at a different conclusion, determines Anne-Sophie Dore, an attorney at the Quebec Center for Environmental Law. Only the target company of this project has the right to appeal the decision taken against it.

“In this case, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act [de 2012] “It does not provide for mechanisms so that the government can modify the decision taken,” explains Mai Doré.

Soon after its project was approved, developer Equinor raised its ambitions to extract oil off Newfoundland, increasing the project size from 300 million to “more than 500 million barrels”. “

Despite everything, the green light that Ottawa received has not changed, because the federal environmental assessment, which was carried out under the old version of the federal law, was not carried out taking into account the amount of oil extracted. It even stipulated the possibility of expansion.

“To calculate the potential for the pro-establishment of additional oil reserves, the Federal Environmental Assessment took into account the potential impacts of development beyond the boundaries of the core development area,” cIAEA spokesperson Jacqueline Souve explains.

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The federal agency ruled in April that the Gulf of Nord was “not likely to cause significant adverse environmental impacts”.

It established a series of 137 legally binding requirements for Equinor, such as issuing annual reports, protecting the habitats of migratory fish and birds and a commitment not to harm fishermen. The company has also pledged to have its offshore oil extraction facilities become carbon neutral by 2050.

Failure to comply with one of the conditions stated by the federal government gives the government the right to withdraw its mandate. In theory, such a violation could be detected by one report or another of the monitoring mechanisms provided.

Possible packing

However, government approval is not always a guarantee that a project will come true, and Equinor is well positioned to find out. One of its other deep-sea exploration projects in Australia faltered after rallying opponents.

Although approved by the government, The Great Australian Bight project [«La grande baie australienne »] It was abandoned in February 2020 after exploratory drilling, officially because it was not “commercially competitive”, According to Equinor’s head in Australia, John Stangland.

Quebec environmental group Équiterre sees significant similarities between the abandoned Australian project and a planned project off the Canadian coast, explains Director of Government Relations, Marc-Andre Viau.

“In this case, even after the Australian government’s environmental approval of the project, it was the developer of the project itself who backed down in the face of protests from local people, environmental groups and indigenous peoples. This mobilization success is possible here as well. We have seen this in particular with Energy East and GNL Quebec,” he wrote in an email.

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Équiterre asserts that it is also possible to thwart the federal approval of Bay du Nord through legal means. The organization joined the Sierra Club Canada Foundation in asserting in federal court that the decision in favor of the project violated Canada’s international climate commitments. The date of the sessions is not yet known.

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