May Warns of Irreparable Environmental Damage in Our North: Oil and Gas Development Must Not Be Rushed

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, MP Saanich-Gulf Islands, warned the Harper Conservatives not to move recklessly on expanding northern offshore drilling in the Beaufort Sea before more is known about the potential risks to this fragile ecosystem.

“The announcement that 905,000 hectares in our pristine Arctic waters are open for bidding comes as a shock – especially when Parliament is debating Bill C-38, which guts so much of our environmental protection,” said May.

The Green Party leader also pointed out that we do not know enough about the environmental implications of drilling in the Arctic.

The bidding announcement comes less than two years after such drilling plans were put on hold following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Ironically, after a subsequent Arctic-drilling safety review by the National Energy Board, looser rules were introduced.  These allow companies with equivalent measures in place to circumvent a requirement that they respond to a blowout by drilling a relief well before winter.  However, the alternative measures to deal with a blowout are not yet developed.

In the House Thursday, May addressed this issue:  “… My question is simple. How will the National Energy Board eliminate the risk of blowouts during drilling, exploration, and development in our most fragile ecosystem, the Arctic?

As with most questions relating to environmental protection, John Duncan, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, refused to address May’s concerns.

“Before we continue along yet another risky fossil-fuel road, the National Energy Board must clarify how it will eliminate or minimize the dangers of blowouts on the ocean floor,” said May.  “What equipment will they have aboard? What precautions will they take?  Right now we simply do not know. 

“Furthermore, the Arctic is a shared environment.  We need a circumpolar approach developed through the Arctic Council.”

Interestingly, the bidding announcement came just one week after Scott Vaughan, Canada’s Commissioner on the Environment and Sustainability, pointed out that the Conservatives are highly unlikely to meet their own greenhouse-gas reduction targets.

“As the rest of the world and many of its leaders pay heed to warnings about climate change, Mr. Harper is opening up as many areas to resource extraction as he possibly can,” said May.  “As the ice melts and the Northwest Passage opens up, he wants to speed up the warming while he destroys decades of environmental laws and ignores renewable-energy opportunities along with the jobs they will create.”