Nfld. & Labrador

N.L.'s offshore oil regulator to get new name, mandate to pursue renewable energy projects

The provincial-federal body that regulates Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore oil and gas industry will be renamed and have its mandate expanded to include renewable energy such as wind and hydrogen.

Governments pledge to end oil and gas subsidies, and retool regulations to encourage offshore renewables

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, which regulates Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore oil and gas industry, is getting a new name and a new mandate. It's being replaced by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Energy Board and will have its regulatory role expanded to include wind and hydrogen power generation. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

In another sign of the growing shift away from fossil fuels, the provincial-federal body that regulates Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore oil and gas industry will be renamed and have its mandate expanded to include potential offshore renewable energy developments such as wind and hydrogen.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, or C-NLOPB, was created in 1986 as part of the Atlantic Accord, and tasked with overseeing petroleum-related activities in the offshore oil industry.

The board employs nearly 100 full-time employees and had a budget of more than $22 million last year, according to its most recent annual report.

But once legislative changes are made, the regulator will be known as the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Energy Board, or the C-NLOEB.

The change was announced in a joint media release from federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Andrew Parsons, Newfoundland and Labrador's minister of industry, energy and technology.

The release said the new board will take the lead in offshore energy development by "creating a predictable and streamlined regulatory environment and promoting investor confidence in the deployment of renewables."

The new board will take the lead in offshore energy development by 'creating a predictable and streamlined regulatory environment and promoting investor confidence in the deployment of renewables,' according to a media release. (CBC)

"Newfoundland and Labrador is perfectly positioned at this time of transition," said Newfoundland and Labrador Priemier Andrew Furey.

"We have an abundance of clean, green, renewable energy resources to further develop, such as wind and clean hydrogen. We also have the lower-carbon oil required to meet global demand, as our innovative offshore has among the lowest per-barrel GHGs in the world. The possibilities for renewable energy are endless in our province, and I look forward to this significant step forward in achieving our shared goals and diversifying the economy."

It's a dramatic shift for a province that, a decade ago, passed a law that prohibited private enterprise from developing alternative forms of energy such as wind generation, and largely gave Crown-owned N.L. Hydro the exclusive right to supply electricity to the power grid. The restrictions were in support of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, which is years behind schedule and billions over budget.

Rebranding and retooling: it's a pattern

It's the latest in a growing pattern of oil and gas companies and associations that are rebranding and diversifying as society intensifies efforts reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and transition to low-carbon or renewable forms of energy.

And it comes at a time when the fate of the massive Bay du Nord oil project remains uncertain and at the centre of a heated debate, with federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault expected to announce any day whether the Equinor-led project will be approved.

The C-NLOPB, meanwhile, is largely independent, but matters under the accord referred to as "fundamental decisions" require government approval.

The Hebron oil platform is pictured in 2017 as it prepares to be towed to the oil-rich Grand Banks. (Paul Daly/Canadian Press)

Both levels of government have agreed to change the familiar name and acronym, expand the role of the board, and to make the regulatory changes necessary to support the clean energy transition.

According to the release, "both governments will work together to consider adjustments to the regulatory regime for these projects to proceed as efficiently as possible while still ensuring that regulatory reviews are rigorous and effective."

As part of the shakeup, both levels of government have also committed to ending subsidies to oil and gas companies, including those that operate offshore, though no time frame was announced.

Andrew Parsons is Newfoundland and Labrador's minister of industry, energy and technology. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

In a further bid to encourage a shift to non-carbon emitting sources of energy, the federal Department of Environment and Climate Change will conduct a study of the potential impacts of wind energy in Newfoundland's offshore industry. The study, known as a regional assessment, will be done in consultation with the C-NLOPB and "assist in providing long-term regulatory certainty and clarity for investors," according to a media release.

The creation of the C-NLOEB comes at a watershed moment for the province's offshore oil industry, which is under increasing scrutiny in an era when global economies are scrambling to meet emissions targets while trying to create good-paying jobs that are compatible with a green economy.

In a statement, St. John's South-Mount Pearl MP and federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan said the change is in response to the enormous challenge of climate change and a reflection of the opportunities it presents.

"We need to pivot. Canada and the world needs low-emitting sources of oil and gas and reliable sources of renewables to meet our energy needs. Newfoundland and Labrador has the solution," said O'Regan.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Roberts is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, and is based in St. John’s. He previously worked for The Telegram, The Compass and The Northern Pen newspapers during a career that began in 1991. He can be reached by email at: Terry.Roberts@cbc.ca.

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