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Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is open to removing conservation protections off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador if there is a major oil discovery in the area.

Fossil fuel giant BP — which left the oilsands to dive into Canada’s offshore market last year — is planning to drill an exploratory well in a marine refuge off the coast of Newfoundland. Rules around marine refuges mean exploratory drilling is allowed but oil production is not. In marine protected areas, no oil activity is allowed.

However, as reported by the CBC, Wilkinson said if BP finds oil while exploring the area, there is a possibility the marine refuge could be altered and “removed as a conservation area.”

"I'm not going to prejudge what is going to come out of the exploration, but that will be a discussion for down the road. If there is a decision to proceed with production and it goes through the various environmental assessment processes, then we would remove it from the protected status that Canada has put in place," he told the CBC.

Changing a conservation area would need to go through a rigorous federal environmental assessment, said Keean Nembhard, Press Secretary for the minister of Natural Resources, in a statement to Canada’s National Observer.

“While, under some circumstances, exploratory drilling is permissible within a marine refuge, production would only occur following a federal Impact Assessment conducted by [the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.] This is the same process for all production projects regardless of their location,” said Nembhard.

He added that the federal government is “committed to protecting marine environments and ecosystems,” and pointed to the Canada’s goal of protecting 30 per cent of marine and coastal areas by 2030, along with its $2 billion commitment towards its Ocean Protection plan and its moratorium on deep sea mining.

Wilkinson's comments come as Canada is experiencing an extreme period of wildfires. On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters an “especially severe wildfire season” could be ahead and that climate change — which is largely driven by pollution from burning fossil fuels — is making fires more intense and frequent, and causing fires in areas where they don’t typically occur.

Canada’s National Observer reached out to Natural Resources Canada and BP but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Josh Ginsberg, lawyer with @ecojustice_ca, questions why protections are there in the first place if they can be “arbitrarily removed in favour of industry profits and carbon-polluting fossil fuels.”

BP currently has 15 licences to explore the waters off the coast of Newfoundland, including the marine protected zone in question, which spans more than 55,000 square kilometres. Known as the Northeast Newfoundland Slope Closure, Fisheries and Oceans Canada notes it has “high concentrations” of corals and sponges that provide habitats for other marine species. All bottom-contact fishing is banned in the area to protect biodiversity, and while BP says it will study the site to reduce “potential adverse environmental effects on corals and sponges,” it said risk can’t be eliminated completely.

Wilkinson’s comments fit into a larger picture of weak oversight and environmental protection in Newfoundland’s offshore oil industry, said Ecojustice lawyer Josh Ginsberg. Ecojustice, an environmental law charity, is currently involved in two offshore oil cases in the province: one challenging the exemption of offshore oil drilling from the federal environmental assessment process, and one against the approval of Bay du Nord, a megaproject that is part of Newfoundland’s plan to double offshore oil production by the end of the decade.

“Canada can’t claim to be a climate leader while at the same time continuing to greenlight massive offshore oil and gas exploration and production,” said Ginsberg.

“This government has fast-tracked exploratory drilling off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador and approved giant and risky production projects like Bay du Nord despite warnings from scientists that we can’t afford new fossil fuel production in the midst of a climate crisis.”

Ginsberg questions why protections are there in the first place if they can be “arbitrarily removed in favour of industry profits and carbon-polluting fossil fuels.”

During exploration, airguns towed behind ships bounce airwaves into the seabed floor to give receivers a sense of where oil and gas deposits are. Depending on how long it takes for the airwave to return to the sensors, companies are able to map subsea formations, which could contain fossil fuels.

Exploration activity from oil and gas can harm marine life and ecosystems, especially during exploratory drilling. Depending on ocean depth, a temporary barge, rig or ship goes out and drills into the ocean floor to pump oil up from the deposit. At this stage, many of the same concerns critics have with oil production overlap, including the risk of a spill and the effect ongoing activity has on the ecosystem.

— With files from John Woodside

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
June 7, 2023, 02:15 am

This story has been update to include comment from Keean Nembhard, Press Secretary for the minister of Natural Resources.

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These people are insane. Surely we have a way of removing politicians who are insane.
What in heaven's name is there protection *from* ... or for ... if the boundaries can be moved willy-nilly.

It's way beyond not being able to claim climate leadership. We are *the* climate laggards of the world. It's time to pull up the breeches and run from the floods and fires toward climate change science.

Forest-fire carbon emissions are not being included in our national emissions calculations, much less the carbon double-whammy first for what's burned, and second for the loss of the ongoing carbon capture and sequestration services that forests provide.

And now protecting waters and waterways means nothing: it's just some words to no practical effect.

In earlier times, the correct call would have been to draw and quarter the climate hooligans in government. But we're civilized and, you know, a "rule of law country" and that means those who break the laws are protected from wrong doing, as long as they are those who can make new laws. There oughtta be a law against that.

Schizoid insanity is a feature of Canadians engulfed in the fossil fuel tar pits. On the one hand there's money to be made from destroying land and sea with oil extraction, on the other hand we'll need that money to deal with the destruction of land and sea, water and air. The disconnect the mentally challenged fail to see is that the money earned from the extraction destruction, will, most assuredly, NOT be available to repair the destruction or to rebuild a livable planet.

The article says "Rules around marine refuges mean exploratory drilling is allowed but oil production is not."

What an amazingly stupid, cynical rule. Obviously what that means is that oil production is in effect allowed. After all, there's no point in exploration for oil if you won't be able to extract it--like, what, just for abstract knowledge? The point is, you explore for oil, then if you find some, you say "Look at all this money! Change the rule just for us" and whatever minister is in charge says, like the current one, "Yes sir mister oil baron boss sir!" and changes it. Presumably everyone in the natural resources ministry and every cabinet minister including the environment minister know perfectly well that the so-called rule is not so much a fig leaf as one element in the stunning ensemble of the emperor's new clothes.

Bastards.

"He added that the federal government is “committed to protecting marine environments and ecosystems,” and pointed to the Canada’s goal of protecting 30 per cent of marine and coastal areas by 2030, along with its $2 billion commitment towards its Ocean Protection plan and its moratorium on deep sea mining."

Clearly, such a "commitment" (be it designated as protected, or under a moratorium) lasts only until something "better" comes alongat which time protections or moratoriums are lifted.

This leads to the conclusion that the composition of the 30% of protected land and water is open to being shuffled around from extraction project to extraction project. Eventually, the 30% may comprise only tailings ponds and piles, "protected" from future exploitation.

It is quite clear that the Caucasian colonial predatory capitalism responsible for stealing the New World from its indigenous inhabitants (and also stealing non renewable resources around the globe) is not finished with its asset stripping. The Viking pirates and thieves have never disappeared - merely morphed through the centuries to become kleptocrats and capitalists.

Until we can break up the black hole of recirculating bribery and collusion between the predators and the cowardly "bribees"; using tax payer funds to subsidize oil robber barons who then use that money to bribe the integrity absent politicians: this sucking roar that deafens everyone to the dying voices of our better natures will be the last evidence that a human civilization ever existed on this planet.

"Federal minister open to sacrificing part of marine refuge for oil discovery"

Revised: Federal minister open to sacrificing future generations for oil industry profits.
There go your climate-sincere Liberals again.
A rogues' gallery of climate criminals.