This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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 libraries.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP 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 IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc 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 IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative 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 IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc 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 IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP 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 IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP 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 IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP 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 IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP 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 IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP 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 IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP 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 IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP 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 IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP 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 IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP 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 IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

(Motion agreed to)

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Mégantic—L'Érable Québec

Conservative

Christian Paradis ConservativeMinister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, this debate provides an opportunity to reassure Canadians that when it comes to the development of our natural resources, the health and safety of Canadians over environment remains the top priority of this Conservative government.

We all continue to be shocked by the enormity of the incident in the Gulf of Mexico, the scope of the ecological challenge facing our American neighbours.

As the Prime Minister said earlier this month:

There are strong rules in Canada. There are rules for relief wells. The National Energy Board does not allow drilling unless it is convinced that the safety of the environment and the safety of workers can be assured. Let me assure all members of the House that we will continue to enforce stronger environmental standards in this country.

That is the fact of the matter.

In terms of the search for energy resources, environmental protection and worker safety, Canada's regulatory system for drilling offshore and everywhere else is one of the best in the world.

We are all hoping that efforts to cap the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico will soon be successful. Media around the world are following the story closely and, no doubt, countries around the world will be taking a long, hard look at their offshore activities as a result of this disaster.

Here in Canada, our regulators have already moved swiftly by launching a review, placing additional requirements to ensure that all equipment, systems and procedures are in place to ensure safe operations, and to protect the environment.

On May 11 the National Energy Board announced a review of Arctic safety and environmental offshore drilling requirements.

On May 20 the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board announced special oversight measures for current drilling by Chevron in the Orphan Basin.

In addition, the Government of Canada has a team in place, monitoring the efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

I am happy to tell members that current regulatory requirements for offshore drilling are substantial and meet high standards. I am confident that after a thorough review, one that takes the unfortunate incident in the Gulf of Mexico into close consideration, Canada's safeguards will stand the test of scrutiny. If they fall short, make no mistake about it, they will be strengthened.

Canadians will be happy to learn that our current environmental laws and standards are very strict and we already have a well-developed safety regime for offshore drilling.

The oil and gas platforms used in the Canadian offshore drilling industry as well as the equipment and training required for their operation must meet regulatory standards that are among the highest in the world.

There is currently no offshore drilling in the north. Allow me to repeat that, because there seems to be a lot of confusion. There are currently no oil wells being drilled in northern waters. There is not a single one, and it is as simple as that.

If applications for drilling were to be accepted in the future, the National Energy Board, an independent agency in charge of evaluating these types of applications, would evaluate each one to ensure that it meets strict federal standards.

As for the east coast, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board have similar responsibilities and are equally rigorous in applying them.

No drilling will happen unless the board responsible is fully convinced that the drilling plans are safe for workers and the environment.

These same boards require that oil and gas companies have up-to-date environmental protection and response plans in the event of a spill.

It should also be noted that the National Energy Board and the offshore petroleum boards do not take a silo approach to their work. They work together. They work together very closely. They are often in touch with other regulatory organizations around the world to learn from what is happening elsewhere, which is what they are doing now.

It is important for Canadians to understand that when it comes to offshore activities, decisions are made with the greatest care and only after a very thorough examination of all factors.

Currently, there is no offshore drilling or oil production occurring in Canada's north. Also, there is a moratorium on oil and gas exploration and production in northern Hudson Bay. And just recently, the moratorium on Nova Scotia's Georges Bank offshore exploration was extended to the end of 2015.

As can be expected in a matter of such great importance, the NEB review process will be open, transparent and extremely thorough. It will include opportunities for any Canadian citizen, especially aboriginal people, to get involved.

In light of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we will take a close look at the measures that we may have to take in order to reduce the risk of such an incident happening here.

In the meantime, we have a very sound regulatory system. But like all Canadians, I am appalled by and very concerned about the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. I am shocked to see the scope of the environmental damage and the economic cost of such a spill. And like all Canadians and, I am sure, all members of this House, our Conservative government wants to ensure that such a disaster never happens here in Canada.

The hon. member's motion also requests a review of the regulations as they apply to the oil sands.

A recent article in the Calgary Herald pointed out:

In the case of the oilsands, the size of the resource has been defined, the exploration risk is non-existent and the environmental challenges fall into the remediable category.

That is just the first point. The same level of risk does not exist; it is just not there.

Second, let us also remember that the environmental regulations that apply to the oil sands, like those that apply to Canada's offshore, are among the toughest anywhere. However, there are some concerns and they are being addressed.

One of the concerns is the use of water. On that point, less than 1% of the average annual flow of the Athabasca River is used in the oil sands. A water management framework is in place. Within that framework, waterflow from the Athabasca is monitored on a weekly basis and limits are adjusted accordingly every week.

Land use is also a concern. Any application for a new development in the oil sands must include a thorough and detailed plan for reclaiming and remediating any land that may be disturbed by the operation. That is a condition of licence. Tailings are managed and monitored according to the strictest environmental requirements, and it must be noted that environmental performance in the oil sands is improving steadily.

Between 1990 and 2007, GHG emissions per barrel of oil production dropped by close to one-third, one of the best records of achievement by any sector in Canadian industry.

Carbon capture and storage will allow us to significantly reduce carbon emissions from the oil sands.

This technology will also allow us to reduce the emissions generated from coal-fired electricity production, thus achieving two goals at once.

The Canada-Alberta carbon capture and storage task force estimated that generalized use of this technology could allow Canada to cut its greenhouse gas emissions considerably, by as much as 600 million tonnes a year, which corresponds to three-quarters of our current annual emissions.

Since we cannot ignore such significant potential, the government continues to invest in research and in demonstration projects to perfect this technology.

Regarding the water issue, I must point out that 90% of the water used in oil sands production is completely recycled, and producers are turning more and more to underground sources that yield brackish or saline water that cannot be used for human consumption or agricultural purposes.

Extensive research is helping us find new and better ways to clean up the land and dispose of tailings and other waste.

Research conducted by scientists in my department is very promising. Scientists have developed a treatment process for the dry tailings whereby those tailings would be shaped into a sort of brick that is both dry and stackable, eliminating the need for tailing ponds entirely and further reducing the risk to the environment.

Although things keep improving from an environmental standpoint, we must also take into account the economic and strategic importance of the resource.

The oil sands are the second largest proven reserves in the world with 170 billion barrels of oil. That is enough to provide every drop of oil the United States will need for the next 23 years.

With advances in technology, it is possible that this yield could almost double and reach more than 300 billion barrels. The contribution of the oil sands to North America's energy security is immense and growing almost every day.

As the International Energy Agency and other experts have said, oil will be the main source of fuel in the world for many decades to come. That is a matter of fact whether we like it or not. We do not have to like it. We can be upset about it, but we can continue to develop alternative sources. That is what we are doing.

However, when we govern, we must also act responsibly, and we must accept the facts and the reality. I repeat that oil will continue to be the main source of fuel for many decades to come. It is time to develop this resource in a cleaner, greener way and that is what the government is doing.

In fact, the IEA has forecast that global demand for oil will increase by almost 35% over the next 20 years. We should realize how lucky we are to have such a formidable resource to fuel our economy and that of our neighbour.

Let us be clear about this: the energy security of the United States and the health and well-being of the American economy are very important considerations for Canada.

The oil sands provided direct and indirect jobs for 250,000 Canadians in 2008 alone. Our entire country benefits. According to a major study conducted by the Canadian Energy Research Institute, 44% of jobs generated by investments in the Alberta oil sands are located outside that province.

In the next 25 years, the oil sands alone could contribute $1.7 trillion—that is $1,700 billion—to Canada's GDP. That translates into 326,000 good jobs, and I repeat, good jobs, for all Canadians.

These are very impressive numbers and very important to our future prosperity and quality of life in Canada, and to the energy and economic security of our most important trading partner and number one customer, the United States.

Of equal importance is the fact that these tremendous resources, not just oil sands, but our offshore oil and gas and any other new energy resource from shale gas to methane, will be developed according to what is the most thorough and demanding safety and environmental regulatory regime in the world. No development will proceed until it is proven that it can be done in safety with full respect for our environment.

The policies and regulations that govern energy and other resource development in Canada are under almost constant scrutiny to ensure that they continue to be effective in all respects; that is, protecting safety, protecting our environment and protecting our economy. This is done not only by the Government of Canada, but by the provinces and territories as well.

Indeed, as Minister of Natural Resources, I am already working with my provincial and territorial colleagues to undertake a fundamental review of Canada's regulatory regime to ensure it is as effective as it can be.

Therefore, I would like to thank the member for Edmonton—Strathcona for her motion, which draws our attention to some very important issues today.

This motion provides us with a golden opportunity to reassure Canadians about the protection provided by Canadian regulatory standards. As I said, these standards are modern, robust and constantly being improved.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to zone in directly on an element of this question of review which is inherent in the motion. It speaks to a commitment the Prime Minister made on behalf of this country at the G20 in Pittsburgh. It deals with the whole question of fossil fuel subsidies.

The Prime Minister repeated three times this week in the House of Commons that Canada has no fossil fuel subsidies to eliminate, citing the accelerated capital cost allowance measure from the 2007 budget, which only kicks in in 2011. The commitment was specific, that we would be looking at, for example, accelerated deductions for exploration and development expenses and flow-through shares.

At the G20 meeting in Toronto, Canada is supposed to present an implementation strategy and a timeframe for the elimination of those subsidies. The Minister of Natural Resources is specifically responsible for those subsidies. Perhaps the minister could help Canadians understand, because there is significant confusion. Will Canada have an implementation strategy for the removal of fossil fuel subsidies in their entirety at the G20 meeting in Toronto?

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Christian Paradis Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. Accelerated capital cost allowance is an incentive brought in by the previous Liberal government. Nevertheless, it is important to note that our Prime Minister has made it very clear both here in the House and around the world that subsidies must be eliminated. Canada is a leader in that respect.

We will continue to provide leadership. Commitments were made in Pittsburgh, and we will stay on track for the G8 and G20 summits. Canada's record in this area speaks volumes: we have one of the lowest levels of subsidies in the world. We have a green economy, and it is important to continue in that direction. I am very happy with our Prime Minister's leadership on this issue. We are already leaders when it comes to eliminating subsidies, but we will continue to work on this issue and show leadership.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am a little surprised at the minister's words. He says that he can reassure people about current and future drilling in Canada, but that is just not true. Down south, President Obama says that his government has imposed a moratorium and is waiting for the results of an inquiry, but here, the minister is still authorizing oil drilling just 400 km from St. John's, Newfoundland.

Government officials say that if a drilling accident happens, they would have to bring in a drilling platform from the Gulf of Mexico to drill a relief well. It could take 11 days for the drilling platform to get here and four or five months to drill a relief well.

How can the minister provide any reassurance about current drilling projects when people from the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board are saying that it could take months to drill a relief well? Is that what the government calls reassuring?

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Christian Paradis Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board is overseeing drilling east of Newfoundland and Labrador. On May 20, this board announced that it was tightening up its oversight measures. That is what is happening now.

As I was saying, we are not working in silos. At the federal level, the National Energy Board is reviewing all of the regulations. We are happy that the Americans have suspended drilling in the north. In the end, they are exactly where we are now. There are currently no drilling permits in Canada, in the Beaufort Sea, in the Arctic waters. No drilling will be permitted before 2014. That gives us ample time to examine this issue and to fine-tune our regulations. The United States has also suspended its activities to take a closer look. Otherwise, there would have been drilling in six months.

This shows that we have a robust system. Our National Energy Board is an independent entity that has been in operation for years. We need to be careful. I think it is very dangerous that the opposition is trying to politicize this situation and to discredit responsible scientific agencies that are independent of the government, and whose job it is to enforce the strictest standards that best protect the environment.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, again I sat here listening to the rhetoric. What is important to the government is the continued subsidy of the oil and gas sector and ensuring the continuance of the contracts to supply our resources to the United States.

Time after time in the House, I have heard the government say that it wants to mirror U.S. law and policy on energy and the environment, but let us consider the disaster in the gulf and the potential for far greater disaster in our Arctic. As the disaster in the gulf was occurring, our National Energy Board was about to hear an application to relax the requirement for a relief well. In this case, it would take three years to do a relief well and not two or three months, as was the case in the gulf.

Will the minister commit to open up his review? Will he ensure public participation and ensure costs to the public so that others can bring in their own independent experts and legal counsel if necessary regarding a review of improving the regulatory regime and governance in this critical area?

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas IndustryBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Christian Paradis Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, one thing is clear: what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico is a catastrophe, and we are all appalled by it. Now, there are a lot of ifs. And it would not be right to say that this will definitely happen here in Canada. We have rules in place.

First, no project will be allowed unless the government and the National Energy Board, Canada's regulator, are certain that workers' health and the environment are protected. That is the first thing. It is the basic premise.

As my colleague knows, the National Energy Board announced on May 12 that it was reviewing all offshore drilling requirements and that it would hold hearings open to the public. The review will be open and transparent.

They are going to look at all the incidents that have taken place in the Gulf of Mexico to get a better understanding of what happened and improve our regulations. It will be an open and transparent process. In the meantime, no licences have been granted for the north or the Beaufort Sea. Nothing is happening at this point in time. To all intents and purposes, nothing will be happening there until 2014. There are not even any boats there to drill. There is absolutely no drilling activity.

That gives us at least five years to get a better understanding of what has happened and learn from it. That is why I said it is reassuring to see that the Obama administration in the United States has decided to move toward an independent agency, like the one we have had for years, and to suspend operations while it finds out more about what is happening and looks at what can be done in future to protect the environment better.