NDP pushes back on Bay du Nord as decision on fate of offshore project looms

A decision on the Bay du Nord project is due in the coming weeks. But as the date draws nearer, politicians are at odds as to how the project squares with federal commitments to de-carbonize the economy in the coming decades.

N.L.'s Liberal MPs 'stand united' in support for project, which NDP says ignores climate science

NDP leader Jim Dinn says the provincial government's support of the Bay du Nord project runs counter to climate science. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

As a decision over the fate of a controversial oil project in Newfoundland's offshore looms, the provincial NDP is raising concerns over how the project squares with federal and provincial climate targets.

The Bay du Nord development, located in the Flemish Pass some 500 kilometres east of St. John's, holds potential for 300 million barrels of oil and an estimated $3.5 billion in federal revenues, according to the website of Equinor, one of the project's key stakeholders.

A decision on the project is expected March 6.

On Thursday, Radio-Canada reported that Bay du Nord has earned the support of some federal ministers — including deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland.

On the provincial level, Joanne Thompson, Liberal MP for St. John's East, said the development would provide an "economic boon" for the province for years to come.

"You can't look at 34,000 jobs and think that's incidental," she said. "So that's the reason why we take this [project] very seriously."

A map of a section of ocean.
A decision over the fate of the Bay du Nord project in Newfoundland's offshore is due in early March, Radio-Canada reports. (Equinor)

But NDP leader Jim Dinn is questioning how the project squares with federal commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

On Friday, Dinn said endorsing a fossil fuel project at a time when governments are committing to keeping oil in the ground is a sign Furey's Liberal government "just doesn't get it."

"We cannot continue to be ignorant to climate science, and the impact the decisions of today have on our future generations," Dinn said in an emailed statement to CBC.

"The science is clear," he said. "We need to keep oil in the ground and our focus must immediately turn to how workers are going to be transitioned to our new economy."

Transition plan needed

The Furey government has said it's committed to meeting the federal government's climate targets for 2030 and 2050, and established a net-zero advisory council in December.

And while Thompson insisted those targets would remain a priority of the government, she said the Bay du Nord development could be critical in helping transition the province away from fossil fuels.

Liberal MP for St. John's-East Joanne Thompson says she supports the Bay du Nord project wholeheartedly. (Carolyn Stokes/CBC)

"We still need to transition from oil and gas," she said. "We know that. But in the meantime, this is a clean project — probably one of the cleanest in the world. Why should this … not be the source of our oil and gas in this transition period?"

In his statement, Dinn said a plan for transitioning workers out of the oil and gas industry is needed, but Bay du Nord isn't it. 

Dinn called on the provincial government to "release the just transition supports plan that workers are owed, and stop forcing them through this cycle of fear and false hope." 

"These workers need supports and assurances for their futures through a just transition supports plan," the statement read. "They cannot continue to be held hostage by a volatile industry that is in active decline."

While Thompson said the provincial caucus "stands united" in its support for the project, the schisms it's causing between parties is mere politics.

"It's a big cabinet, it's a big tent and people have different opinions and that's fine," she said. "That's part of the process."

Thompson said two ministers — who she did not name — were working "tirelessly" to get the project approved.

"I'm confident in the project," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Kyle Mooney is a journalist and musician living in St. John's.

With files from Carolyn Stokes