New government legislation addresses offshore oil spill response

Published on February 1, 2014

OTTAWA – Joe Oliver, federal minister of Natural Resources, introduced new legislation on Thursday meant to better protect Canadian safety when it comes to Canada’s offshore oil and gas industry.


However, the proposed changes don’t include prevention and protection according to Mary Gorman with Save Our Seas and Shores.

“The problem with the government’s new regulations is that they only deal with alleged mitigation of risk,” Gorman, a Merigomish resident, said.

One of the changes would be to raise the amount of money companies must demonstrate they have before they can begin drilling to $1 billion.

This is labeled as a preventive measure in the proposed legislation.

The financial capacity requirements now range from $250 million to $500 million, with $30 million required as a deposit to work in the Atlantic offshore areas.

The legislation, called the Energy Safety and Security Act, also suggests giving offshore boards the authority for environmental assessments and allow them to issue penalties for small infractions.

One of the largest changes would be a rise in the absolute liability, when a company is not responsible for a spill, to $1 billion from $30 million in Atlantic offshore areas. 

There is already an unlimited liability in place if an oil company is found at fault or negligent.

"A billion dollar liability limit for Canada, which has the longest coastline in the world, is woefully inadequate when you consider that BP has spent $43 billion dollars so far in unsuccessful clean up efforts and compensation for the Deepwater Macondo disaster in the Gulf of Mexico," Gorman said.

Another problem with this, Gorman said, is that there is no realistic way to clean up an offshore oil spill, especially in areas prone to ice.

The wind in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, paired with counter clockwise currents, further the difficulty, she said.

A recent government-commissioned study found that the Gulf of St. Lawrence is one of two Canadian areas extremely vulnerable to offshore spills.

During a press conference call, Oliver said there would always be at least one environmental group that will oppose resource development.

“We need to take a balanced approach that respects the environment but takes advantage of the resources we’re blessed with.”

He noted that the industry has resulted in billions of dollars in government revenues in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

“We only go ahead with projects that have gone through rigorous scientific review, then make decisions.”

Part of the act involves transparency, with a section on making emergency planning, environmental plans and other documents available to the public. The legislation would provide regulators with access to $100 million per project or a pooled fund of $250 million to allow them to immediately respond or compensate. 

The act also looks at changing offshore drilling regulations in the Artic and the nuclear industry.

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