Climate groups call on Ottawa to reject Bay du Nord project

National and international climate activist groups and academics are asking the federal government to reject the proposed Bay du Nord oil project off the coast of Newfoundland.

Fears include future climate but also financial implications

With water depths of 1,200 metres, Equinor's Bay du Nord project will use a floating production, storage and offloading vessel, better known as an FPSO, like the one illustrated here. (Equinor)

National and international climate activist groups and academics have banded together to call on the Canadian government to reject the proposed Bay du Nord oil project off the coast of Newfoundland.

"The most recent IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report has been very clear that we really cannot push past our climate targets," Conor Curtis, a researcher on climate impacts for Newfoundland and Labrador with the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, told CBC News on Thursday.

"There's plenty of evidence that say developments like this 100 per cent bring us past what we can possibly look at emitting." 

On Wednesday, 118 environmental and citizens' groups across Canada — the Sierra Club among them — signed a letter sent to Ottawa calling on the federal government to toss the project. A second letter was signed and delivered by 81 international organizations saying the approval would undermine Canada's credibility as a climate leader and set back international efforts to solve the climate crisis.

The Bay du Nord project is predicted to extract about a billion barrels of oil, create thousands of jobs and bring in about $3.5 billion to a province that relies heavily on oil and gas revenues.

Curtis said lobbyists are attempting to obscure the fact that massive oil projects aren't viable anymore and it's time for the federal and provincial governments to get serious about a transition away from the industry. 

Critical project

But the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says the project will ensure energy security both at home and with Canadian trading partners.

In a media release Wednesday, CAPP said an International Energy Agency report suggests if other countries stop spending money on new oil projects, Russia's global market share would rise significantly, "with OPEC and Russia making up over 60 per cent of the world's supply on global oil production."

The price of oil has spiked across the globe as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues. Russia is the third-largest oil producer in the world and a crucial supplier to Europe. Canada has banned Russian oil imports, but other NATO countries have not included Russian oil in their sanctions.

A map of a section of ocean.
The Bay du Nord project, located some 500 kilometres east of St. John's, actually comprises six oil discoveries. (Equinor)

"We can produce the lowest-carbon oil in the future to help supply other countries that don't have it, that need it, that at the moment in Europe have to rely on other countries like Russia," Paul Barnes, CAPP's director of Atlantic Canada and the Arctic, said Thursday. 

Closer to home, Barnes said the project is critical for the future of the oil industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

He said the project has gone through an extensive four-year environmental assessment approval process. 

The final step is getting the approval from Ottawa.

"As the industry and countries around the world like Canada want to move away from oil and natural gas development as we transition to cleaner forms of energy, we need projects like this that will help us in that transition period," said Barnes.

Gas prices spike, N.L. doubles down on need for project

In a statement to CBC News on Thursday, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador said the project is critical to the province's economy and would provide "significant employment and economic activity."

The province said the project will play a role in helping the province meet global demand for oil while supporting the province's commitment to hit net zero by 2050.

In Newfoundland and Labrador on Thursday, gas prices rose by 4.5 cents per litre, setting yet another record high. Diesel rose 5.4 cents and furnace oil climbed by 3.6 cents.

Experts predict prices will continue to rise over the next few weeks as the conflict in Ukraine continues. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show