Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Oil's well that ends the Orphan Basin well

“The C-NLOPB has acted much more as a cheerleader for oil development than as a regulator. They are routinely covering up vital information about offshore pollution — there is no other way to put it.”
— Ian Toner, a biologist at Memorial University who studies sea birds and the effect of oil pollution on them, as quoted on CTV News.
The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board’s slogan is catchy enough: Regulating for future generations.

Only the slogan isn’t specific enough — regulating for future generations of what?

Marine life?

Couldn’t be.

If that were the case the petroleum board would take the safe side and push for a halt to the drilling of the deepest well in Canadian history in the Orphan Basin about 430 kilometres off Newfoundland.

At least until the cause of British Petroleum’s deepwater blowout/environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico is better understood, and the completion of an independent review of our own offshore oil spill safety practices.

It’s a lot riskier drilling here in waters almost a kilometre deeper than in the Gulf.

Our sea life — codfish specifically — already hangs onto dear life (to borrow a phrase from wordsmith Brian Tobin) by its fingernails.

A massive spill could push cod over the edge from endangered to extinct.

Indeed, our waters are as “environmentally sensitive” as the waters off B.C., where offshore drilling has been banned since the 1970s.

Why the double standard?

Beats me, but then I’m still at a loss to explain why B.C. got a judicial inquiry into the disappearance of sockeye salmon and the feds ignore the cries of our cod.

I digress.

Could it be future generations of “us” that the CNLOPB is regulating for?

I can’t see that either.

If that were the case the petroleum board wouldn’t risk contaminating the sea that future generations of “us” will need to live off long after the oil is gone.

Hold on now — I think I’ve got it.

Could it be future generations of profit?

Must be.

Regulating for future generations … of profit.

“The regulator (C-NLOPB) has all this expertise for developing and promoting oil and gas but also is mandated to protect the environment. I think there’s more than a conflict of interest.”
— Gail Fraser, a biologist at Ontario’s York University who’s studying Canada’s offshore regulations, as quoted on CTV News.

The Danny Williams government may also be in a conflict.

On the one hand, Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale says profits from the oil industry are too “critical” to suspend deep offshore exploration.

She’s not kiddin’.

Almost 24 cents of every dollar the provincial government collects in revenue this year will come from offshore royalties.

At the same time, offshore oil production dropped by 6.9 per cent to 125.2 million barrels last fiscal year, mainly the result of “natural production declines,” according to government’s budget documents.

Offshore oil production is expected to decrease to 98.5 million barrels this fiscal year.

There hasn’t been a new oil discovery off our shores in decades.

On the other hand, the Williams administration must balance dependence on oil revenue against environmental risk.

Give the Williams government credit.

It's a wonder it can get up in the morning with all that conflict.
The Williams administration announced today (May 12th) that a consultant has been hired to review offshore oil spill safety practices.

The government news release describes Captain Mark Turner as “an expert in marine safety and environmental management.”

Turner was behind a 2006 proposal for a LNG (liquid natural gas) transshipment and storage facility to be located at Grassy Point, Placentia Bay.

Not exactly an environmentalist.

Turner will review industry practices and ensure the industry “has the best possible prevention and response procedures in the world.”

Fair enough, but then why doesn’t the province delay the Orphan Basin drilling until after the review is handed in?

Just to be on the above-mentioned safe side.
The shinning of so much light on our offshore industry is a good thing.

For example, did you know that Canadian regulators relaxed offshore drilling regulations late last year, giving the energy industry more flexibility when putting in place safeguards against oil spills.

I didn’t know that, not until I read a story in the Ottawa Citizen.

The Citizen quoted a spokeswoman for the National Energy Board as saying the new regulations represent a “modern” approach that allows companies to use different environmental-protection technologies, depending on the nature of the project.

But then the paper quoted Craig Stewart, director of World Wildlife Fund Canada's Arctic program, comparing the changes to the deregulation of the U.S. financial sector before the collapse of the subprime mortgage market in 2007.

"This shift is a leap of faith that industry will put the public-interest in front of self-interest and shareholder profits. It didn't work in the financial services industry, and, as shown by the Gulf spill, it won't work in the oil and gas industry, either."

1 comment:

ViewPoint2010 said...

We both know that regardless of how much 'hue & cry' is raised, there will not be a suspension of deep sea drilling ... not even after the blow out and the fishery is destroyed. Not to worry, the oil companies will give everyone a job. Ha.