Environmentalists Go To Court To Overturn Bay Du Nord Approval

Environmentalists Go To Court To Overturn Bay Du Nord Approval
Environmental groups are challenging in court the decision to approve Equinor's $12 Bn oil and gas Bay du Nord project offshore Canada.

Environmental groups are challenging the Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s decision to approve Equinor’s Bay du Nord, a controversial $12-billion oil and gas project off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Ecojustice, on behalf of Équiterre and Sierra Club Canada Foundation, filed the lawsuit against Minister Steven Guilbeault in Federal Court on May 6.

The groups say the project’s approval clashes with Canada’s international obligations and the urgent call to reduce global emissions as the reality of the climate emergency becomes more distressing with every severe weather event.

Minister Guilbeault approved the Bay du Nord project just days after a pioneering report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that simply cutting emissions was no longer enough to curb the climate crisis and the United Nations chief called funding new fossil fuel projects ‘moral and economic madness.’

The Minister insists that Bay du Nord will be required to meet 137 conditions — including a condition that the project is net-zero on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This target, however, fails to account for the massive downstream emissions the project will generate.

Ecojustice said that the industry’s and governmental rhetoric around ‘clean oil’ blatantly ignored the fact that the process of extracting oil only accounts for 10 percent of the emissions from an oil project, with the other 90 percent coming when the oil is burned.

Recent estimates suggest that over its lifetime, Bay du Nord is projected to produce between 300 million to one billion barrels of oil, which could, in turn, generate about 400 million tons of carbon — that’s the equivalent of the emissions from 7-10 million cars per year.

Equinor’s AGM Faces Opposition From Environmental Groups

The night before Equinor’s Annual General Meeting in Norway, a striking projection onto the AGM building and other landmarks in Stavanger featured testimony from Canadians opposing the Bay du Nord project. Canadians sent messages to Norway about Bay du Nord’s risks to marine habitat and the climate, as Equinor considers a final investment decision in the project.

On May 11, Canadian environmental organizations placed a full-page ad in Aftenblad, the daily newspaper in the city where Equinor’s AGM is taking place. Featuring a photo of Newfoundland’s coastline, the ad asks the Norwegian people to help Canadians stop Bay du Nord to protect our environment.

In tandem with this, concerned citizens will be protesting at Equinor’s Canadian office in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

“The Minister’s decision to approve the Bay du Nord project is short-sighted and fails to account for the significant downstream emissions that would be generated by this mega project,” James Gunvaldsen Klaassen, a lawyer at Ecojustice said.

“The federal government has made many promises to do its part to tackle climate change, but as this decision demonstrates, those promises are more talk than action at this stage. We cannot ignore downstream emissions when assessing projects like Bay du Nord. The projects we generate in Canada have a global impact and we must stop exporting our emissions and climate crisis overseas for others to deal with while continuing to profit at home.

“The government has acknowledged that our window for mitigating the worst impacts of climate change is rapidly closing, and meeting critical long-term objectives requires immediate action. Bay du Nord will lock the province and Canada into further dependence on fossil fuels at a time when the science demands we transition away from fossil fuels towards cleaner, sustainable energy sources,” Klaassen stated.

“Just days before Bay du Nord was approved, the UN Secretary General said investing in new oil projects was ‘moral and economic madness’ – so we had no choice but to challenge this approval. Canada needs to stop breaking its climate promises and protect communities from the impacts of runaway climate change such as coastal flooding, unprecedented storms, loss of ice cover needed for traditional hunting and fishing, and disrupted supply chains,” Gretchen Fitzgerald, National Program Director at the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, claimed.

“We also need to get off the downward spiral of boom and bust that will only become more and more precarious as oil markets decline. We know there are better and safer pathways for workers in the fossil fuel sector to be part of growing opportunities in wind, solar, and energy efficiency. We will continue to push for much-needed government funding for these opportunities as we fight this project tooth and nail.

“Not only did the project assessment disregard greenhouse gas emissions, but the environmental assessment also ignored the advice of government scientists regarding the risk to marine mammals – including endangered species- and threats to deep sea corals and sponge habitats.

“At depths of over a kilometer, the project is the deepest production drilling project in Atlantic Canada’s history, and it would take 18-36 days to get a capping stack on site in the case of a disaster similar to the Deepwater Horizon. An uncontrolled blowout in the middle of the North Atlantic with oil spilling uncontrollably for weeks to months would be a catastrophe for fisheries and ocean life – not to mention Canada’s international reputation,” she said.

“Greenlighting Bay du Nord will delay the transition and lock the communities of Newfoundland and Labrador into a fossil-fuel-based economic growth. This project approval disregards the many warnings scientists have been giving and it is not only inconsistent with our domestic and international obligations but also immoral towards the present and future generations,” Colleen Thorpe, Executive Director at Équiterre, says. “Bay du Nord poses a threat to our marine ecosystems and diminishes our goals of reducing GHG emissions. Considering all the long-term impacts, we have no choice but to seek this judicial review in federal court.”

To contact the author, email bojan.lepic@rigzone.com

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