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Lawyers representing Equinor and the federal government on Thursday pushed back against arguments that Canada’s first deepwater offshore oil project was unlawfully approved.

In April 2022, 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 in Newfoundland, “is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.” Opponents were quick to condemn the approval, noting the significant emissions that would come from the project and the risk it poses to marine life.

In Ottawa on Wednesday, lawyers on behalf of Sierra Club Canada, Equiterre and Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Incorporated (MTI) — a group representing eight Mi’gmaq communities in New Brunswick — said Guilbeault didn’t have the full picture when considering the project’s environmental effects. Notably missing from the environmental assessment he based his approval on, they argued, were downstream emissions (when the oil is burned) and the potential effects marine shipping activity could have on the environment and Mi'kmaq rights.

On Thursday, Equinor lawyer Sean Sutherland confirmed that while assessing the project, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada didn’t include downstream emissions, but said the groups had ample opportunities to request that those issues be addressed during the public consultation process.

Regarding downstream emissions, he said it is common practice for them not to be included in environmental assessments.

“Indeed, in a project EA, it is impossible to identify ultimate downstream uses, the regulations that may apply to those emissions, mitigation measures, and justification,” reads court documents.

He also dismissed the idea that marine shipping was omitted from the assessment, saying there was a reasonable inclusion of potential effects from marine tankers. Sutherland noted Equinor doesn’t know where any of this oil will be shipped yet, and some products might go straight to international markets from the production site, making it difficult to describe the full picture of tanker activity.

He focused heavily on arguments around Equinor’s openness to engage with environmental groups and First Nations, and what he said were numerous examples of the opponents weighing in on the project, and that they didn’t focus on marine shipping or downstream emissions.

Dayna Anderson, a lawyer for the Attorney General of Canada, said consultations with First Nations, specifically those represented by MTI, were thorough. During the process, the government deemed the duty to consult with the group as “low” because of the project’s distance from land and “therefore impacts to MTI’s rights would be minimal,” court documents read.

On Thursday, Equinor said opponents had ample opportunities to request that downstream emissions and marine vessels be included in the environmental assessment. Lawyers on the other side maintain that they did just that.

MTI never agreed to that designation and maintained it was not given enough time and resources to weigh in on and get information on how marine shipping could impact the environment, specifically the endangered Atlantic salmon population that migrates between the Bay of Fundy and the Bay du Nord area.

Ultimately, environmental lawyer Joshua Ginsberg said MTI’s participation was “incomplete,” and that the group’s requests for more information and communication were not met. He said groups not only weighed in during the official process, but they sent letters to Guilbeault and spent significant resources speaking to media and raising concerns specifically around emissions and the transport of oil.

Even though Bay du Nord, if financed and completed, will be hundreds of kilometres from land, Ginsberg said its effects would be felt far beyond the project area. The planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the project will know no borders, and if a spill were to occur, it would inevitably harm marine life. Ginsberg argues it is necessary to assess the impacts of marine shipping and what downstream emissions could mean for Canada’s climate goals.

There is no specific date set for a decision, but Federal Court Justice Russel W. Zinn noted “it may take some time” based on the volume of information.

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I appreciate that we're selling a product with only one use - get burned and produce energy, side-effect of CO2 - but I resist blaming the producer for the actions of the consumer. If we do that, then we get to blame Saudi Arabia for much of world consumption. I think the consumers don't get to shift blame.

Because the producers don't have any idea what'll happen with what they produce, right? Meanwhile, they poison the land, water and air -- as do a whole lot of the "products" made from oil, and inevitably, they all get either used or dumped: same difference.

I don't know about you, but I live where many, many people would happily ditch oil and gas, but there is, at this point, realistically no alternative for most of them.

The sad and brutal truth is that while the government continues propping up the industry, it also encourages it to use "clean" energy to produce "dirty" energy -- taking away from what would otherwise be available for use by people in their ordinary lives, and diverting funds that could by now have built a massive clean grid for all.

Consumers are to blame for some activities: eating beef (whether at home, McDonalds, the steak house or a fancy-schmancy restaurant). Travelling "away" for March Break is another example. One long-distance trip used up an entire year's worth of responsible carbon consumption several years back: now that the amount that needs to be reduced is greater, the per capita carbon budget is less. And yet, apparently it's an entitlement of those with money to burn, to travel 2 or 3 times a year to distant places.

But heating their homes isn't one of them.

"Producers," OTOH, knew full well, over half a century ago, what they were doing to the climate, and what they were doing to people's health. I put the word in quotes, because they are first order destroyers, as well as wanton consumers of taxpayer money.

PS: The problems with other countries are outside Canada's sphere of power, as Canada site at the very top of the heap of irresponsible governments and industries who've made us the per capita kings of carbon equivalents. Without even counting most of it: cute, trick, that!

China's cleaning up its energy supply far faster than Canada is, and producing far more wind and solar power. And it's doing much better in preparing for the inevitable flooding of coastal cities and shortening of rivers. Not to mention that its population is over 36 times that of Canada.