Bay du Nord approval underscores politicization of environmental policy in Canada

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Appeared in the Calgary Sun, May 11, 2022
Bay du Nord approval underscores politicization of environmental policy in Canada

In April, with Earth Day only weeks away on the calendar, Steven Guilbeault, federal environment minister, formally approved the Bay du Nord project, a major oil and gas development project in the Flemish Pass, some 500 kilometres northeast of St. John’s, off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The project, according to the builder Equinor, will drill for and produce oil from deep water oil fields (approximately 1200 metres below sea level) beginning in 2025. According to estimates, the Bay du Nord deposit holds more than 300 million barrels of oil and the planned floating production facility will produce between 94,000 and 188,000 barrels of oil per day over its 30-year life expectancy.

This is a major energy project, which greatly benefit the economies of Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada’s energy- and resource-related economy as a whole. And with Bay du Nord, the Trudeau government has shown that restrictive infrastructure bills such as C-48 and C-69 don’t necessarily mean that Canada can’t “get things done” in the energy space.

But before breaking out in applause for this development, remember that this decision, at this particular time, in this particular part of Canada, in today’s politicized society reveals just how corrupted Canada’s environmental policy has become by politics.

In a nutshell, after at least a decade labouring to kill almost everything involving energy development and infrastructure across Canada (particularly western Canada), the Trudeau government, at a politically opportune moment to appear relevant in world oil and gas markets, approves an oil and gas project chock full of elements Liberal governments have spent decades condemning. Deep water drilling risks? Check. Increased offshore tanker movement and oil leak potential? Check. Increased hydrocarbon production with attendant greenhouse gas emissions? Check. Increasing global reliance on fossil fuels? Check. Producing oil for export that won’t be carbon-taxed before going onto the global market? Check.

Bay Du Nord has, of course, passed inspection by the federal Impact Assessment Agency of Canada and likely poses little risk to the environment and the health and safety of Canadians or to anyone else around the globe. Nothing written here should suggest it’s anything other than a great idea, in and of itself.

But then, the Northern Gateway project passed similar environmental scrutiny but was cancelled by the Trudeau government. The Energy East Pipeline project? Regulated to death. The Trans Mountain Expansion? So near regulatory death Ottawa had to buy it at what will be at least three times the original project cost, assuming it’s ever completed; it’s only 50 per cent complete as of this writing, having been first proposed in 2013. And let’s not even talk about Keystone XL, which was bled heavily first with a thousand regulatory cuts by government-allied environmental opposition in Canada before the Americans struck the final death blow.

But, Bay du Nord? A project in Eastern Canada where it will benefit primarily Liberal Party-supporting Central and Eastern Canada? With a war in Europe that has the world clamoring for more oil and gas from democratic countries? With a prime minister desperate to make Canada relevant upon the global stage? And with a French name for the project? Mais Oui! But of course! Bien sûr! Je vous en prie! And that next energy project in Western Canada? How does one say, “it is to laugh” en français?