Nfld. & Labrador

Oil industry cautious about new federal environmental assessment process

Ottawa calls it streamlining, but a group that advocates for the oil and gas industry isn't willing to buy in yet.

Too many unanswered questions, says head of oil and gas industry association

Charlene Johnson of NOIA and MP Seamus O'Regan shake hands at a briefing about the new federal rules, but the industry group is withholding judgement. (Gary Locke/CBC)

The federal government is promising faster environmental assessments for offshore oil and gas projects and less duplication, but the industry says there aren't enough details yet on whether new federal rules will do that.

On Thursday, Canada's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced plans to streamline the approval process for hydroelectric dams, mines, pipelines and offshore oil exploration, and create a new body to review all major projects across the country.

But stakeholders in Newfoundland and Labrador's oil industry were hesitant as they were briefed by the province's regional minister Seamus O'Regan at a news conference in St. John's.

"We are delivering an impact assessment process that is faster, tightening the timelines and impact assessments, and reducing mechanisms that stop the clock," said O'Regan.

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

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) will be included in the decision making process, he said.

An office for the new regulatory body, called the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, will also be set up in St. John`s.

"It's local agency staff will be based here to work alongside regulatory agencies, the province, invested parties, and it's respectful of the competence held by the C-NLPOB and its expertise in offshore developments," O'Regan said. 

Too many questions

The CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association (NOIA), Charlene Johnson, said there's simply too many unanswered questions that need to be resolved before she can say whether her organization is satisfied with the reforms. 

NOIA CEO Charlene Johnson says she still needs more information before she can say if the federal environmental reforms are good or bad for the provincial oil industry. (Gary Locke/CBC)

"NOIA has been asking that strategic environmental assessments that have already been done by the C-NLOPB would not be duplicated," she said. 

"We heard today that a new regional assessment will be done. So I certainly want to follow up on that.'

Johnson expected to hear more details in a technical briefing later on Thursday.

Provincial minister cautiously optimistic

In a scrum Thursday afternoon, provincial Minister of Natural Resources Siobhan Coady said she's feeling hopeful about what the reforms will mean for Newfoundland and Labrador.

She acknowledged that the province had been lobbying the federal government to allow approval for exploration wells to go through C-NLOPB rather than the new regulatory agency, and more work will need to be done on that. 

At his press conference, O'Regan said he would like to see exploratory wells be under the C-NLOPB as well, but the details were still being worked out. 

O'Regan estimated it could be a year before the new rules come into effect.

The legislation still has to be passed by the House of Commons.

With files from Peter Cowan