Canadian Minister Makes Changes to Offshore Oil & Gas Regulations

The Honorable Stéphane Dion, Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, announced amendments to regulations under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act whereby offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling projects would be subject to a screening type environmental assessment rather than the current comprehensive study type of assessment. The regulatory amendment – a change to the Comprehensive Study List Regulations – will be published in the Canada Gazette, Part II on November 30, 2005.

The decision to proceed with the amendments followed an extensive review by the Minister's multi-sectoral Regulatory Advisory Committee and a 30-day public consultation period on the proposed amendments. The public consultation period ended on April 25, 2005.

"The science indicates that the environmental effects of offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling are, in general, minor, localized, short in duration and reversible. Under the legislated criteria, a screening type assessment would provide an appropriate level of assessment for such projects," said Minister Dion.

A screening is a rigorous and systematic review that examines the environmental effects of a proposed project including its cumulative effects, and also establishes methods for minimizing any effects. If significant effects or public concerns are identified during a screening, the Minister has the option of referring the project to a review panel.

Comments received during the 30-day public consultation process noted the importance of public participation which is mandatory during a comprehensive study. Minister Dion has noted that responsible authorities will continue to include consultation as part of screening environmental assessments of offshore exploratory drilling.

While oil and gas explorations in the offshore will, from now on, be subject to a screening, there are no changes to the comprehensive study requirements for offshore production facilities and offshore pipelines, including associated public consultations and participant funding.