Offshore drilling regulations are weakening, says group

  • Apr. 11, 2005 1:00 p.m.

A proposed change to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s exploratory drilling regulations could make it easier for industry to begin offshore drilling along BC’s coast, according to the Living Oceans Society.
Living Oceans’ representative Oonagh O’Connor is concerned that although the federal government has not committed to offshore development, they are nonetheless “seriously weakening regulations” in the meantime, especially in the areas of seismic testing and exploratory drilling.
Currently, the first well drilled in an area has to undergo a comprehensive study, which includes a public consultation phase. If the amendment goes through, then all exploratory drilling would require only a “screening” and not a comprehensive study.
The change, as recommended by industry, would even further weaken the environmental assessment process, said Ms O’Connor.
“Out of 25,000 assessments done, 99.9-percent have been given the green stamp,” she said. They are more about how a project should be done, and not whether it should happen at all, she added.
“There are major concerns about the quality of these assessments,” she said. “It’s crazy, unacceptable.”
But the CEAA is defending the move, saying that the screening process is almost as thorough as a comprehensive study.
“Screenings are virtually the same as the comprehensive studies,” explained Gordon Harris, a spokesperson for the CEAA, “although with a screening, requirements for public input are not defined.”
This amendment would apply to all areas of Canada’s coast, he said, except for areas currently under a moratorium – so it wouldn’t affect the North Coast area unless the ban was lifted. But if the moratorium were lifted it would “speed up the process,” he said.