A former CEO of the Newfoundland & Labrador Oil & Gas Industries Association (NOIA) said a new process for doing environmental assessments could slow down the development of future offshore oil and gas projects.

Last week, the federal government announced it is overhauling the approval process for natural resources projects such as hydroelectric dams, mines, pipelines and offshore oil exploration.

The National Energy Board will be replaced by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, which will review all major projects and their impact on the environment and health, along with social and economic benefits and the affect on Indigenous peoples.

Hibernia oil rig

The Hibernia oil platform, one of several rigs that drill for Brent Crude in the Newfoundland offshore. (CBC)

"It will actually probably take more time than the existing process," former NOIA president Bob Cadigan told the St. John's Morning Show.

 "It sounds progressive, but I think if you look at it it's a very complex regulatory regime."

Ottawa has said the new, streamlined process will result in decisions on large-scale projects within 600 days.

Cadigan thinks that's unlikely since as many as 54 groups may get to weigh in, and the federal government's climate change commitments will also have to be factored in.

'Whose voices will be paramount in decision making? That's really the critical issue.' - Bob Cadigan

"It's going to be tough to control and manage this kind of a process in order to get decisions in a certain period of time," he said.

"An investor has to know how long it's going to take before they can make a decision, or they're not going to invest. They will invest elsewhere."

Loss of autonomy

Cadigan also thinks the new process could result in less autonomy for Newfoundland and Labrador, and more say for groups in other parts of the country who may have questionable ties to oil projects in the north Atlantic.

Seamus O'Regan

At a news conference in St. John's on February 8, MP Seamus O'Regan stressed the increased efficiency of the new enviornmental assessment reforms. (Gary Locke/CBC)

He fears decisions could be made that could hurt what is the single biggest industry for a province already struggling financially.

Ottawa has said the CNLOPB will continue to be a major player in the review process, but Cadigan worries that it will end up just being one of many voices, instead of being trusted to have greater expertise over its own jurisdiction like it does now.

"All of the voices aren't pragmatic in terms of the decision making that needs to be done. So there's the potential there to go down a lot of rabbit holes," he said.

"Whose voices will be paramount in decision making? That's really the critical issue."

With files from St. John's Morning Show