After discovering hundreds of millions of barrels of oil underground and securing a new licence to drill the site, Norwegian energy giant Equinor is one step closer to developing Canada’s first deepwater oil project off the East Coast.

The flagship discovery, called Bay du Nord, was identified in 2013 and Equinor was given a “significant discovery licence” in 2017. But Equinor’s Bay du Nord project involves tying in nearby oil discoveries called Cappahayden and Cambriol, which were found in 2020. In late January, the offshore regulator, called the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), granted Equinor a new “significant discovery licence” for Cappahayden, which spells out terms to further develop the site.

Adding up the estimated barrels of oil that could be tapped near Bay du Nord reveals a major attempt to increase oil extraction as the province tries to double offshore production by 2030. In Equinor’s 2018 application to the federal Impact Assessment Agency, a body that studies environmental impacts of major projects, it describes extracting “approximately 300 million barrels” of oil. That estimate is now more than 500 million barrels and “includes the 2013 Bay du Nord discovery, as well as the 2020 Cappahayden and Cambriol discoveries,” Equinor spokesperson Ola Morten Aanestad told Canada’s National Observer.

The C-NLOPB shows a breakdown of estimated barrels of oil with each significant discovery licence but notes these figures include oil that is technically possible to take out of the ground but may not be economically viable. Beyond the Bay du Nord, Cappahayden and Cambriol oil discoveries Equinor currently considers part of its Bay du Nord project, the company also owns three nearby significant discovery licences for sites called Mizzen, Baccalieu and Harpoon that collectively hold an additional 180 million barrels of oil, according to the regulator’s data.

Taken together, that’s 979 million barrels of oil Equinor could potentially tap, making the Bay du Nord project larger than most existing oilfields off the coast of Newfoundland. The Hebron, Terra Nova and White Rose oilfields range from 404 million to 707 million barrels. Only the massive Hibernia project, with an estimated 1.8 billion barrels, is larger than Equinor’s Bay du Nord plans.

As Equinor inches closer to deciding whether or not to invest an estimated $16 billion in Bay du Nord to turn its plans into reality, the company is enjoying record profits, raking in US$74.9 billion last year. But Canada is at a crossroads. This week, delegates from around the world are in Vancouver for a global summit on ocean conservation that comes shortly after Canada hosted the COP15 biodiversity conference in Montreal where countries around the world adopted a plan to conserve nature.

“Canada’s vision of marine protected areas will not be complete unless we begin to see an acknowledgment that all new oil drilling is an unacceptable threat to ocean life,” Sierra Club Canada Foundation national program director Gretchen Fitzgerald said in a statement.

Exploring for oil comes with significant harm to marine life. Finding where the oil physically is involves a process called seismic testing, where airguns are towed behind a ship blasting airwaves into the seabed to help reveal where oil and gas deposits are. Once promising locations are identified, exploratory drilling begins to confirm the deposit’s size and quality.

The largest oil spill in U.S. history came from BP’s Deepwater Horizon project, which was an exploration well. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the 2010 spill, which killed 11 people, “likely harmed or killed about 82,000 birds of 102 species; about 6,165 sea turtles; as many as 25,900 marine mammals; and a vast (but unknown) number of fish — from the great bluefin tuna to our nation's smallest seahorse — plus oysters, crabs, corals and other creatures.”

After posting record profits last year, Equinor has now secured a new licence off Canada's East Coast that inches it closer to developing Bay du Nord. #cdnpoli #nlpoli

The federal government approved Equinor’s Bay du Nord project in April 2022. If built, it would emit 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution annually.

John Woodside / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer

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Canada used to rely on capable expert advice from a strong independent civil service. I had to ask why our present governments continue to make the worst choices such as small nuclear, carbon capture and storage, reopening coal mines and hydrogen produced from green energy sources. The response was "because it's what the lobbyists want". We are faced with industry capture of most of our democratic institutions. Our government Ministers seem oblivious to the fact that the advice they are being given has been corrupted. Alberta's Kevin Taft wrote about this in his book "Oil's Deep State". The book is must read for anyone that wants to save democracy and the planet at the same time.

There's a lot of lead-time in these projects. The world has changed a lot since this was approved, money loaned, a bureaucracy cranked up to keep 1000 people working on it; there's a lot of momentum.

You pretty much have to be philosophical that things that are already this far along are actually QUITE far along in organizational/money terms, before ground is broken. Stopping them is like stopping a train with a sawhorse.

We have to focus on them being the last that are approved, indeed, the last where they see any money in going ahead to start with. Part of that is reducing your fossil consumption, undercut the whole business model.

Both previous comments are entirely valid. Mine is by contrast more of an inquiry. Why is the Norwegian Giant Equinor exploiting Canada's water and resources (aside from pure motives of profit) ? Is Norway refusing to let the company sully its seabed, fisheries, beaches etc.? Like pirates Equinor pursues its depredations away from home territory, hoping to escape the condemnation it deserves? Equinor, Exxon, and the other extractors are on increasingly unstable public opinion/investor confidence territory. Canadian disapproval, except for our predatory banks and corporations is steadily rising. Even our yellow bellied politicians are wobbling.

30 Mt of CO2 emissions per year is 30 x 226 = 6780 deaths by heat in this century, locked in every year. That's just heat deaths.