Following a science-based environmental assessment conducted by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada over four years, Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, has agreed with the conclusions in the Agency’s Environmental Assessment Report that determined the proposed Bay du Nord Development Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects when mitigation measures are taken into account. The project is therefore allowed to proceed with strict measures to protect the environment.

Yesterday, a Decision Statement to this effect was issued under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012).

“The federal government concurs with the recommendation of the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. As a result, the Bay du Nord Development Project may proceed, subject to some of the strongest environmental conditions ever, including the historic requirement for an oil and gas project to reach net-zero emissions by 2050,” said Guilbeault.

“The project has undergone a robust federal environmental assessment and scrutiny through every part of Canada’s legislated review process. As the demand for oil and gas falls throughout the coming decades, it will be more important than ever that Canadian projects are running at the best-in-class, low-emissions performance to play a competitive role.”

The decision statement sets out 137 legally-binding conditions that the Norwegian company Equinor (the proponent) must comply with throughout the life of the project, which is approximately 500 kilometres east of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. These conditions include requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and measures to protect fish and fish habitat, migratory birds, species at risk, air quality, human health and Indigenous peoples’ use of resources. For the first time ever, the decision statement has also been issued requiring the proponent to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.

In addition to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, Equinor is also legally-required to consider best available and new technologies to allow for the adaptive management of GHGs, as well as incorporate measures to reduce GHG emissions in the design of the project. The proponent will be responsible for reporting to Environment and Climate Change Canada and to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) on how these measures will be incorporated into the final project design.

At five times less emissions intensive than the average Canadian oil and gas project, and ten times less than the average project in the oil sands, the federal government cites the Bay du Nord development project as an example of how Canada can chart a path forward on producing energy at the lowest possible emissions intensity while looking to a net-zero future.

The project fits within the federal government’s plan to reach an overall 40 per cent reduction in emissions compared to 2005 levels by 2030, as laid out in the Emissions Reduction Plan. It also fits within a projected sectoral emissions reduction contribution of a little over 30 per cent from 2005 levels from the oil and gas sector, as the government moves forward on capping and cutting oil and gas sector emissions.

As per the Impact Assessment Act, the C-NLOPB will be responsible for enforcing the conditions in the decision statement. Failure by the proponent to comply with these conditions is a violation of federal law.

Going forward, Equinor can now proceed with obtaining any other necessary authorizations and permits from federal departments as well as the C-NLOPB.

This decision statement comes after Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced an intent to expand the mandate of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador offshore energy regime to include the development of renewable energy such as offshore wind and clean hydrogen.

However, some environmental groups are criticizing the federal government’s support for the project.

Équiterre, a Quebec-based environmental advocacy organization, “strongly denounces” the federal government’s decision to approve the Bay du Nord oil project off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. The organization states that it’s an irresponsible and incoherent decision locks Canada’s energy future into dependence on fossil fuels and should be put in the same category as the TransMountain pipeline purchase in 2018.

“So called ‘green’ or ‘clean’ oil is a figment of the imagination: it simply does not exist. Oil is oil: it will have impacts however way it is produced and wherever it is burned,” says Émile Boisseau-Bouvier, Équiterre’s climate policy analyst.

Featured image: The Bay du Nord FPSO development concept. Credit: Equinor.

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