If there is a spill once Canada’s first deepwater oil drilling site is in operation, it would spell catastrophe for a multitude of species, as well as surrounding Mi’gmaq communities that use the animals for food, social and ceremonial purposes.
In part, that’s why this week the Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc. (MTI), an organization which represents eight Mi’gmaq communities in New Brunswick, announced it was joining an existing lawsuit against the federal government for its approval of the Bay du Nord site. The case states the project could harm the environment, was unlawfully approved and should be overturned.
MTI co-chair Chief Rebecca Knockwood of Amlamgog noted the impact the project could have on Atlantic salmon, currently listed as “endangered” under Canada's Species at Risk Act.
“Our relationship with salmon is deep and historic, as it is essential for cultural expression. The continuation of the salmon fishing practice through traditional means creates opportunities for knowledge sharing and the expression of Indigenous values to provide for the community,” said Knockwood.
“We harvest salmon as part of our inherent rights for food, social and ceremonial needs.”
Another shortcoming of the approval was the lack of meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities, said MTI Chief George Ginnish of Natoaganeg. He said the assessment process included “rushed timelines and lack of notification and opportunities to be included at key junctures.”
In April, Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault approved Bay du Nord, stating it was environmentally sound. He determined the project, about 500 kilometres east of St. John’s, “is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”
Ecojustice, on behalf of Équiterre and Sierra Club Canada, filed suit against the project soon after the approval. It will argue in Federal Court that Bay du Nord could harm the environment, meaning Guilbeault unlawfully approved the project.
Norwegian energy giant Equinor and its partner company Husky (owned by Cenovus) will operate the Bay du Nord project, which includes numerous exploration and discovery licences, the creation of a floating oil production station and the drilling of up to 40 wells in the Flemish Pass Basin. Guilbeault’s statement about the environmental decision was posted with conditions, including requiring Equinor to develop a “marine mammal and sea turtle monitoring plan” and a requirement that the project would be net-zero emissions by 2050.
Critics were quick to point out that there’s no such thing as a “net-zero” fossil fuel project and that even if companies could make their products without any emissions, which so far none have, all oil and gas produces emissions when burned. So-called Scope 3, or tailpipe, emissions are not accounted for in the government’s calculations. Lawyers will argue it’s misleading and unlawful to not include those emissions.
On Tuesday, Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc., an organization which represents eight Mi’gmaq communities in New Brunswick, announced it was joining the lawsuit against the federal government for its approval of the Bay du Nord oil project.
In response to MTI joining the suit, Equinor said they have “all regulatory requirements for offshore field developments in Canada. Equinor appreciates that there are differing views in the energy debate — something we experience in Norway and everywhere we have activity.”
Environment and Climate Change Canada said it doesn’t have further comments, and referred to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, which did not respond in time for publication.
“If the federal government continues to neglect its duty to meaningfully consult Indigenous communities and chooses not to respect the need to implement our treaty rights in a way that is respectful of our rights to self-determination, they are continuing to systematically exclude us from the fishery and [the] right to a moderate livelihood while putting our traditional lands and waters at serious risk,” read part of a release from MTI.