Adjournment Proceedings – The Environment


Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I am rising to pursue a question that was asked some time back, but it is still very relevant.

I asked this question in question period on May 17, and it related to a report that had just been released that the federal government was encouraging leases in the Beaufort Sea and other areas of our Arctic. At the same time, the National Energy Board had come up with a way to reduce what are fairly onerous requirements on oil companies that wished to drill in the Arctic. The National Energy Board had relaxed its requirements for proof of being able to drill a same-season relief well.

I think a lot of Canadians did not know what a relief well was until we watched the failure of one in the Gulf of Mexico with the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. We certainly saw there why there is a need for it. For example, if there is a blowout at depths in the ocean, a way to stop the blowout is needed, and a relief well is required.

In the case of the Arctic, with much more difficult climatic conditions, if a blowout occurred during winter months when there is ice cover and no daylight, the chances of being able to get in a same-season relief well are critical. The relief well would have to be put in before the winter conditions became an impossible obstacle, in order to stop a blowout.

On May 17, I raised this question: How would we eliminate the risks of blowouts during drilling exploration and development in our most fragile ecosystem in the Arctic?

Since I first raised the issue, the French multinational giant, Total S.A., aborted its efforts to pursue oil drilling in the Arctic in September. The CEO of Total, Christophe de Margerie, told the Financial Times that there was simply too large a risk. In fact, from his point of view, the financial risk to his company of attempting to drill in the Arctic would outweigh any benefit. As he put it: “Oil in Greenland would be a disaster…. A leak would do too much damage to the image of the company”.

We have a situation where at least one large oil company decided it is not worth the risk. However a second large oil company, Royal Dutch Shell, abandoned those attempts after repeated failures, also in September, after spending almost $5 billion in efforts to get at oil in offshore Alaska, in the Arctic.

Here we have a situation where Canada is about to take the chair of the Arctic Council, which is a huge opportunity for this nation. The Minister of Health, a member of the Inuit nation, will be chairing the Arctic Council table.

This is a time for Canada to show leadership and say we will not subsidize oil and gas, we will not promote oil and gas in the Arctic and we will insist on same-season relief wells. We will not allow relaxation of standards and we will adopt a precautionary principle in concert with the other circumpolar nations who sit at the Arctic Council table. It is critical that we protect our Arctic.

Greg Rickford: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the question of the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Our government is committed to ensuring that a strong and prosperous north helps shape the future of our nation. Without a doubt, the north continues to be a top priority of our government. We are carrying on with the delivery and improvement of key programs and initiatives under the northern strategy – programs and initiatives that benefit all Canadians.

The north is home to world-class resource potential, representing tremendous economic opportunity. Our government continues to encourage investment in northern communities while ensuring that investment is supported by a world-class safety and environmental protection regime in the north.

In anticipation and preparation for future investment in the north, the National Energy Board initiated a public review of Arctic safety and environmental offshore drilling requirements. The final report of the public review released by the board on December 15, 2011, reconfirmed that Canada’s Arctic offshore regulatory regime is one of the safest and most stringent regimes in the world.

To emphasize this finding, the report included a series of new safety and environmental protection filing requirements for Arctic offshore drilling programs. These new requirements were developed based on input received during the public review. They will contribute to the already rigorous review process that the National Energy Board undertakes when considering whether to authorize oil and gas activities in the north.

The issuance of mineral rights on crown lands is important to encouraging investment in the north. Working with northern and aboriginal governments and people, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada issues rights to prospective resource developers. The rights issuance process in the north is open and transparent and, as in other jurisdictions in Canada, is market-based. An exploration licence issued by the department gives the developer an exclusive right to explore and to drill for oil and gas.

Currently, there is no drilling in the Arctic offshore. Any proposed activity associated with an exploration licence would require the authorization of the National Energy Board, and the review process would include public consultations. Also, before a drilling program would be authorized, the applicant would need to demonstrate that it meets the safety and environmental protection filing requirements for offshore drilling in the Canadian Arctic.

Our government is committed to helping the north realize its true potential as an economically healthy, prosperous and secure region within a strong and sovereign Canada.