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.