The Sierra Club of Canada Foundation is accusing the National Energy Board of “playing dirty tricks” in its approach to preventing oil spills in future offshore drilling in the Beaufort Sea.

Current policy requires companies working in the Arctic to have the the capability to drill a relief well in the same season to release pressure and stop oil flow in case of a blowout such as the one that happened with BP in the Gulf of Mexico.

But the NEB has said that other equally effective methods would be considered.

Imperial Oil Resource Ventures Ltd. hopes to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea in 2020 and has said that drilling a same season relief well would be impossible.

The company still hasn’t submitted its plans for equivalent safety measures, but the NEB has already asked stakeholders to comment on a "List of Issues" they should consider when deciding whether or not the alternative is good enough.

John Bennett, national program director for the Sierra Club of Canada Foundation, says once that happens, the discussion will be limited to whether or not the companies meet the criteria set out in that list.

“A discussion of whether or not we need relief wells is now moot,” Bennett says.

“This is a dirty trick by the oil industry and it’s fostered by the NEB in order to avert real questioning of what they’re planning to do.”

In an email, NEB spokesperson Tara O’Donovan says any ruling from the same season relief well process will only determine whether the company has met or exceeded the goals of the same season relief well policy. 

She says the public will have a chance to comment on the same season relief well process at a later date.