House of Commons Hansard #51 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was oil.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

May 28th, 2010 / 10:05 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

moved:

That this House notes the horror with which Canadians observe the ecological disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico and their call for action to prevent such an event in Canada, and therefore calls on the government immediately to conduct a thorough review and revision of all relevant federal laws, regulations and policies regarding the development of unconventional sources of oil and gas, including oil sands, deepwater oil and gas recovery, and shale gas, through a transparent process and the broadest possible consultation with all interested stakeholders to ensure Canada has the strongest environmental and safety rules in the world, and to report to the House for appropriate action.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with my colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

The New Democratic Party is seeking the support of the House for an open public review and, where deemed necessary, the revision of relevant federal laws, regulations and policies regarding the development of unconventional sources of oil and gas.

Why is it necessary for this review to be done by the government and why is it critical to the immediate and long-term interests of Canadians?

Canada's economy continues to be majorly dependent on fossil fuel expectation, while much of the developed world is moving away from this narrow focus on energy and economic dependence, both for environmental and sustainable prosperity reasons. It is therefore the duty of the Government of Canada to ensure that our natural resources are exploited in a sustainable, efficient and environmentally sound manner in the interests of Canadians, both current and future generations.

It is also the duty of the government to ensure that the interests of other sectors are consulted, considered, respected and protected under exploitation policies and decisions. Canadians are demanding and deserve a secure clean energy future. They also expect that jobs will not be put at risk, as has happened in the Gulf of Mexico, where lax environmental controls did not provide employment but rather delivered an economic tsunami.

Canada's oil and gas resources belong to the people of Canada, whether vested in the provincial or federal crowns, first nations governments or peoples. While they may be leased to private corporations for exploitation, they remain public property. Therefore, it is the duty of the government to ensure they are managed and exploited in a manner reflecting the long-term interests of Canadians.

Canadians have watched in horror the monumental ecological disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. We are all disturbed by the damage to threatened species, the fishery and local economies and the pending spread of this pollution by hurricanes. However, people are equally outraged to learn of the abject failure of the U.S. government to assert its regulatory powers and authority to control the offshore industry and avert this disaster, including deregulation, streamlined approvals, waived environmental requirements, transfer of powers to unelected agencies and an all too cozy and, in the words of President Obama, at times corrupt relationship between oil corporations and regulatory agencies.

It all sounds too familiar. What has happened to the duty to govern? Who is minding the public trust? It is not just this ecological disaster south of the border that has awakened Canadians to the need for greater action by the Canadian government to guard their interests. As the government spends $1 billion securing a two-day G8 and G20 photo op, the Auditor General is reporting that the government has failed to deliver on its legal duties to safeguard our northern environment, including assessing cumulative impacts and monitoring and enforcing environmental offences.

This fall, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development will issue a timely audit on federal actions to protect our fragile Arctic. Meanwhile, the government is expending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to map the Canadian Arctic offshore territory in anticipation of Arctic offshore drilling. What the public is likely unaware of is that leases have long ago been issued in the absence of broad public consultation, environmental assessment or designation of protected areas.

In a letter to President Obama, the Inupiat community of the Arctic Slope said:

As the country scrambles to clean up the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Shell Oil is getting ready to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic Ocean, one of the most remote and extreme environments on Earth... The Arctic coast does not have the infrastructure in place, nor is there technology available, to respond effectively to a blowout or oil spill offshore.

The world has been given this wake-up call at the very moment the National Energy Board was considering a request by the selfsame companies to weaken environmental safety rules for wells in the Beaufort Sea and through a hearing process that effectively excluded the public. We would do well to heed the concerns raised by Arctic communities about the lack of capacity in the remote Arctic, given the complete failure of federal authorities to respond to the unprecedented spill of over 700,000 cubic litres of bunker C oil into Lake Wabamun.

If the government was not capable of responding to an inland disaster of this scale, close to major centres and in an oil-based province, how can we have faith that it is prepared for an offshore disaster of an even greater scale?

However, it is not just offshore deep wells that pose serious threats to the environment. The parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development just reviewed the impacts of unconventional oil sands on the Peace-Athabasca River basin and the natural resources committee has only touched the surface of issues surrounding unconventional drilling.

Yesterday, President Obama announced strong measures to redress what he described as the far too cozy relationship between the oil industry and regulators in that country. He cancelled exploratory drilling permits in the Arctic, Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. He cancelled proposed leases for Virginia's coast and the Gulf of Mexico. He suspended 33 projects in the Gulf of Mexico. He established a presidential commission to investigate causes of the spill. He reversed the policy of fast-tracking and streamlining approvals, and, in his words, “all too frequent skirting of required environmental reviews”. He also separated permitting and enforcement roles.

We want to know if the government will expedite similar measures to address the failures identified by numerous past and ongoing reviews? Always keen to tout its desire to follow in the footsteps of the United States, will it also reverse its policy of fast-tracking and streamlining approvals for Arctic drilling?

The National Energy Board has advisedly cancelled the hearing requested by the oil companies to relax safety and environmental requirements for Arctic drilling. It has now set a broader hearing on Arctic drilling. It is our recommendation that this process instead be led by an independent review body under the direction of the government and the terms be expanded to include all unconventional oil sectors on all three coasts and the oil sands.

The current estimate of volume of oil spilled by BP's blowout in the Gulf of Mexico now eclipses the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, making it the worst in U.S. history. Can we imagine a spill of this magnitude in the Canadian Arctic, on the west coast, the east coast or the Peace-Athabasca Delta?

The Canadian Senate has called for emergency hearings on offshore drilling. National Inuit leader, Mary Simon, has supported the call to postpone offshore oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.

We call upon all members of this House to support this call for an urgent review of: federal laws, regulations and policies regarding unconventional exploitation of fossil fuels; to consider, at a minimum, rules and policies for offshore drilling, in particular deep wells, Arctic drilling, exploitation of shale gas, and the need for government regulation and oversight; precautionary measures, environmental assessment and regulatory requirements; emergency and spill response rules and capabilities; the approval processes for leases, exploration, and drilling; transparency and intervenor rights; consistency among Canadian regulatory regimes and agencies; comparable law and policy in other jurisdictions; and budgeting and resources for delivery of permitting, monitoring, inspection and enforcement and emergency response duties.

We can learn from the mistakes of others. We can exercise precaution. We can choose to govern in the interests of future generations of Canadians.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her speech.

I must point out that this general weakening of environmental standards, environmental assessments and safety standards had already begun long before the current government decided to amend legislation, for example, so that projects would no longer be assessed by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency but, instead, would be submitted to the National Energy Board. Since 2005, we have known that the federal government, with the help of the Liberals, intended to make changes to environmental assessments so that exploratory drilling projects would no longer be subject to assessments or studies—

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I apologize for interrupting the member, but we do not have translation. Perhaps we could give the interpreters a few minutes to resolve the issue. Is it working now? Yes.

The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has 30 seconds to ask his question again.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I have only 30 seconds, that means that I cannot do any kind of preamble.

I would like to ask the member whether she finds it acceptable that in 2005, the government decided that exploratory drilling projects would no longer be subject to comprehensive studies, but to screenings instead? We have not only the current government to thank for these weakened regulations, but also the Liberal government, which began this in 2005.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, for quite some time, the federal government has moved in the direction of deregulating this critical and risky venture of offshore and unconventional oil. Unlike the United States, which actually requires an environmental assessment and public review of the issuing of leases to simply explore and do seismic work, in Canada we have deregulated so that none of that is required.

We need to have an overall review of the direction in which Canada is going to ensure our fragile areas are protected from unconventional deep water drilling and all other unconventional pursuits and exploits of resources that put our communities at risk.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona for her motion today because it is timely and extremely important, especially with what we have seen in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why does the member think it is so important that the Government of Canada actually do environmental assessments, rather than allowing bodies, like the National Energy Board, do them? Why are we allowing folks outside of the regulatory process to do this when we really have the authority? Why would we not be doing it as a government to ensure that all Canadians, all of Canada and indeed the world are safe from any of these massive spills?

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, in Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs makes the decision on whether it will lease those rights. However, when it does that, it requires no environmental impact assessment and there is no public scrutiny.

In the case of the National Energy Board's review of applications to actually drill, there is little opportunity for the public to intervene because, unlike provincial review bodies, such as the one in Alberta to which I give credit, the National Energy Board provides no costs to the public to intervene, whether or not they are first nation communities, Inuvialuit, Inuit or people from Nunavut. There is no support in intervening so they can hire experts and legal counsel, and many of these hearings are held at a far distance. In fact, the NEB hearing that was about to commence to weaken the rules for drilling off the Arctic coast was to be held in the high Arctic, so there was no way that communities outside of that area could intervene.

We need a review because the government is going in the direction of turning over more and more decisions to appointed agencies instead of binding rules by the elected government. That is why President Obama has stepped in and called for a review and is ratcheting the broad discretion that has been granted over far too many decades to regulatory agencies that are unaccountable to the people.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge the member for Edmonton—Strathcona, both for sharing her speaking time with me and also for bringing forward this very important motion. The member for Edmonton—Strathcona has a strong and passionate voice for the protection of the environment and has certainly turned a very critical lens on the current government's approaches to so-called environmental protection.

I am pleased to speak to this important motion today. The residents of Nanaimo—Cowichan often raise issues around the health of the oceans in British Columbia, the fate of the wild salmon stocks and our continued reliance on fossil fuels. This is particularly why I wanted to speak to the motion.

Three things happening in British Columbia right now are important to take note of. The first is there is continuing pressure to remove the oil tanker moratorium that has been in place since approximately 1972. The second pressure point in British Columbia is the proposed Enbridge pipeline that will run from the Alberta oil sands to Kitimat. The third is the continuing pressure to have offshore oil and gas drilling take place in some of the most fragile and volatile ocean waters in Canada.

Although I would like to speak to all three of those matters, I will focus primarily today on the offshore oil and gas. However, I want to quickly mention the tanker traffic because this is a particularly sensitive issue right now.

In the Living Oceans press release, as a result of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it indicated:

The Enbridge Gateway mega-project would involve an approximately 1,100 kilometre pipeline that would carry oil from the tar sands to Kitimat, where 525,000 barrels of oil per day will be loaded onto oil tankers that will thread their way down Douglas Channel to the inside Passage, bound for Asia. That works out to about 225 loaded, massive oil tankers per year, passing each other in the channel and other narrow, confined areas along the coast.

In March 2010, the first nations from the north and central coasts in Haida Gwaii banned oil tankers from their traditional territories. They stated:

The First Nations governments have taken action to protect the ocean that supports our communities, said Sterritt.

He is the executor director of the Coastal First Nations. They go on to say:

Now we would like to see the same leadership from the federal government.

The groups are pointing to the challenges of cleaning up the spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a grim reminder that failed technology and bad weather can make the impossible even harder.

Many Canadians may not be aware of that particular area of the coastline, but it gets extremely strong storms, huge waves and is a very sensitive ecosystem. To take the risk of having the kind of oil spill that we see in Mexico happen in those pristine waters would be catastrophic.

I will spend a lot of my speaking time referring to a report called “A Review of Offshore Oil and Gas Development in British Columbia” published in May 2004. This study was prepared for the Coastal First Nations by the Offshore Oil and Gas Research Group, the School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University. It is a lengthy report, so I will only be able to touch on a couple of aspects of it.

The report reviewed the whole B.C. moratorium process and that included a variety of reports that had been issued in the past on offshore oil and gas. It included the B.C. Offshore Oil and Gas Task Force, the Provincial Scientific Review Panel, a B.C. Offshore Oil and Gas Task Force put forward by the provincial review process and the Provincial Scientific Review Panel and then, finally, this report.

In the B.C. Scientific Review Panel's conclusions, it said:

—there are significant gaps in knowledge, that environmental impacts could be catastrophic, that existing regulatory structures are deficient, and that a number of preconditions need to be made before ...[offshore oil and gas] can proceed all suggest that the lifting of the existing moratorium would be premature.

I am speaking to this in the context of the fact that we are concerned the federal regulations are simply inadequate. When we raise some of the environmental issues that we are looking at in British Columbia, it becomes even more evident that the moratoriums both for tanker traffic and oil and gas drilling need to remain in place.

The report identified the fact that there were 26 areas where there were knowledge gaps. I do not have time to go through all 26, but I want to touch on a couple of the environmental areas.

Knowledge gaps include identification of valuable species, identification of stable areas, earthquake monitoring. Again, for Canadians who are not aware, we are in the highest earthquake zone in Canada. The other gaps are impact assessment of acoustic propagation, oil spill trajectories, impact of oil spills on landfalls, areas of critical habitat, behaviour and toxicity of natural gas in marine environment, long-term impacts of spill and recovery rates and cumulative environmental impacts. This is only a few out of the 26 serious concerns that the report raises around gaps in environmental knowledge.

The report goes on to say that offshore oil and gas:

—would have negative environmental affects. These affects would occur at phases including exploration, development, production, and decommissioning. While some impacts are local and short duration, others affect larger areas and last longer.

Although there is consensus that negative environmental impacts would occur, considerable uncertainty regarding the exact nature and magnitude of these impacts exist. The uncertainty is due to several factors. First, research on environmental impacts of OOGD is incomplete; there are substantial gaps in knowledge. Second, impacts are unique to each ecological system. Results based on the experience of other regions would not accurately predict the impacts for B.C. Third, impacts are based on unknown probabilities of events, such as accidental oil spills. Fourth, impacts would vary depending on the type of regulations, management practices, and technology governing OOGD.

The report notes:

Oil spill clean-up measures are largely ineffective in mitigating impacts of oil spills. Clean-up efforts on average recover 5-15% of the hydrocarbons and the clean-up process can itself cause additional environmental damage.

Recent research shows that the impact of oil spills last at least several decades. Recovery time from spills is therefore lengthy.

I want to turn briefly to the arguments around economics. We consistently hear that, particularly in some of these areas in British Columbia where there is high unemployment rates. The argument always is that they need to do offshore oil and gas development because it will bring jobs to our communities.

Sadly the evidence flies in the fact of that. In the report the panel did an extensive socio-economic analysis. The report points out:

OOGD is a very capital-intensive that generates few jobs, and would rely on highly skilled services and equipment produced outside of B.C. Consequently, economic impacts are less per dollar of output than experienced by almost every other sector of the B.C. economy. For example, the oil and gas sector generates about 1.5 jobs (direct person years) per million dollars of output compared to forestry (3.5 jobs), fishing, hunting and trapping (3.5 jobs), and tourism (22.23 jobs).

The panel did a comparison with Sable offshore energy project in Nova Scotia. It says:

The investment in SOEP of $2.3 billion generated only 310 direct jobs, for a ratio of $7.4 million per job created. Also, 90% of the revenue generated by gas production accrued to recipients outside of Nova Scotia, most in the form of profits to the companies exploiting the resource. Nova Scotia received just 6% of the revenue in the form of royalties and taxes and employees located in Nova Scotia received 4%

Therefore, there is a very strong counter argument for why we would talk about job creation.

I think it is very clear that there is insufficient information to even consider lifting the moratorium in British Columbia. The community impacts, the socio-economic impacts, the impacts on the environment all need to be taken into account and all the key stakeholders must be at the table for any discussions around lifting this moratorium. This would include first nations, communities, certainly business and other government representatives.

It must be an inclusive process that I would argue needs to respect the precautionary principle. Unless it can be demonstrated unequivocally that it is safe, that moratorium for the tanker traffic and for the oil and gas must remain in place.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan really flags and raises the concerns that all of us in B.C. have about not only the Enbridge pipeline and the devastation that it could cause, as she said with over 200 tankers travelling through very fragile waters, but also the moratorium that we have had on oil and gas development as well as tanker traffic.

I would like to ask the member a question about the Enbridge pipeline. There has been incredible and significant opposition in British Columbia from first nations, environmental groups, local community organizations, provincial and national organizations. I have not yet seen anyone who thinks this is a good development that should go ahead, other than the proponents of the pipeline itself.

Could the member bring forward to the House the breadth and the scope of the opposition in B.C. to this pipeline and how damaging it will be?

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a headline here that says, “First Nations declare opposition to Northern Gateway, heightening risks for Enbridge investors”.

First nations and other coastal communities are very aware of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the devastation it had in the north. Watching what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico, many people in British Columbia simply cannot believe that we would even contemplate bringing over 200 oil tankers into some of the most pristine coastal areas in British Columbia.

Just a year ago we had the collapse the wild salmon stocks in the Fraser River. One of the major concerns around any kind of oil and gas development or tanker traffic is the impact it could potentially have on already threatened wild salmon stocks.

We are very concerned about the overall health of the ecosystem. British Columbians are signalling, very clearly, that they want the moratorium to stay in place. They do not want to see this kind of development in British Columbia.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I could move the member to the other coast, to Newfoundland and Labrador, where there is a bay called Placentia Bay. It is a very large bay that is subject to fog and other environmental weather hazards. There is also a refinery at the head of the bay, as well as a transshipment port.

A recent study by Transport Canada has indicated there are about 8,200 vessel movements per year there, including tankers bringing oil to the refinery and refined products out, as well as all of the transshipment for oil from the Grand Banks.

One of the criticisms in this study is that there is not really an effective method of dealing with any potential oil spill which could occur and that there is a lack of coordination by Transport Canada, the official responder, as well as the fact that oil response equipment is centrally located outside of Placentia Bay, in St. John's, and not in the bay where it is mostly likely to be an opportunity for a response.

If this review were to take place, is that also the kind of examination that would be done, which could potentially change these regulations to make them tighter so we could have an effectively oil spill response?

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the report I was citing was from Simon Fraser University. One of the challenges raised in the report was the fact that there was often no intergovernmental coordination, never mind between the federal and provincial governments but within the federal government itself, around sharing information and oversight and regulations. When we are talking about impact on oceans, we are not only talking about Environment Canada but we are talking about DFO and the ministry of transport as well.

We would envision seeing some coordinated effort in regulations so we do not have this silo approach when we deal with some of these serious environmental issues. Again, when we deal with oil spills, first the potential for the impact of the oil spill and then the challenges for the clean up, it is absolutely essential that we have that kind of coordinated approach.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I seek the unanimous consent of the House for the following motion:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, at the conclusion of today's debate on the NDP opposition motion in the name of the Member for Edmonton—Strathcona, all questions necessary to dispose of the motion be deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, June 1, 2010, at the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.