Oil drilling project will exacerbate harms from climate change to northern ways of life, says Inuk activist

Thursday, March 24th, 2022 11:44am


Image Caption

An oil drilling rig, and Inuk environmental activist Amy Norman.


“The missiles had barely fallen in the Ukraine before the oil industry in Canada was using this war to argue for Bay du Nord. It’s an absurd and dangerous argument.” — Tzeporah Berman, international program director for Stand.earth and chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

For Inuk activist Amy Norman the impact of an oil drilling project like the proposed Bay du Nord off the coast of Newfoundland is not theoretical.

“We’re the people of ice and snow. That’s who we are and that’s who we’ve been since time immemorial. Destroying the ice is destroying us,” said Norman.

“Investing in oil and gas is violence against these lands and waters and it perpetuates the cycles of destruction and colonialism. Climate destruction is already disproportionately impacting the north.”

Norman joined five others on a panel presentation March 22, World Water Day, to speak against the deep water Bay du Nord oil project to be located in the Flemish Pass Basin in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Bay du Nord is being developed by Equinor in partnership with Cenovus Energy. The oil discovery is at a water depth of approximately 1,170 metres. It is estimated that it will produce 300 million barrels of oil and provide 11,0000 person years of employment. Equinor is considering development of the Bay du Nord field using a floating production unit for storage and offshore loading, according to Equinor’s website.

“Bay du Nord is a unique opportunity to generate significant value and increase the capacity and global competitiveness of the Newfoundland and Labrador oil and gas supply chain,” reads the company’s website.

The federal government has delayed its decision on the project until mid-April. Ottawa was initially scheduled to make a decision last December.

Now that the NDP has joined forces with the Liberals to backstop the Trudeau government through to 2025, Dr. Angela Carter, associate professor in the department of political science at the University of Waterloo, said the NDP’s strong stand on green environment and climate change action could have a favourable impact.

“I won’t speculate on whether this makes this project more or less likely. We know that the NDP obviously had a very strong platform to prioritize climate crisis…(and) these projects are preventing the federal government from reaching its emission reduction commitments. These are commitments we made internationally… So hopefully with an NDP alliance, if you will, it will strengthen the commitment for them to do that,” said Carter.

Leadership in Canada needs to step up, said Gretchen Fitzgerald, national programs director with the Sierra Club Canada Foundation.

On March 2, a letter signed by 126 environmental and citizen groups and academics from Newfoundland and other parts of Canada was sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and ministers Steven Guilbeault (Environment and Climate Change), Joyce Murray (Fisheries and Oceans) and Jonathan Wilkinson (Natural Resources).

The signatories implored the government not to approve the project as it was “incompatible with Canada’s domestic and global climate commitments, contradicts Canada’s commitment to capping emissions from the oil and gas sector, is based on a seriously flawed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and does not provide Newfoundland and Labrador the support needed to transition workers to a prosperous, clean economy.”

Among the signatories were Norman’s organization Grand RiverKeeper Labrador, the Wolastog Grand Council, Sacred Earth Solar, Keepers of the Water Society and Indigenous Climate Action.

Fitzgerald said the environmental assessment carried out on Bay du Nord was “fatally flawed”, and since the initial assessment the numbers of potential production have changed.

Equinor made its initial discovery in 2013, followed by discoveries in 2015, 2016 and most recently in 2020.

“This project warrants deep and adequate scrutiny. It did not get this scrutiny during the assessment process,” she said.

With the conflict in Europe, said Tzeporah Berman, international program director for Stand.earth and chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, oil producers and oil producing provinces have started talking about filling the gap that has been left by boycotts of Russian oil.

“The missiles had barely fallen in the Ukraine before the oil industry in Canada was using this war to argue for Bay du Nord. It’s an absurd and dangerous argument,” said Berman, who also pointed out the project would not be built in time to help Europe replace Russian oil and gas.

Equinor’s website says the first oil from Bay du Nord is expected to be produced in the late 2020s.

Carter said any production by Bay du Nord is going “full speed in the wrong direction.”

“It is now clear by international climate science that there is no more room in our emissions budget for new oil projects...Bay du Nord project is throwing fuel on the climate fire. Bay du Nord is part of the climate problem,” said Carter.

“The world is changing and climate change is already here. Environmental destruction is not a distant future. It’s our current reality and already we’re seeing the impacts here in Labrador and Newfoundland,” said Norman.

“Unreliable sea ice, warming temperatures, more frequent storms, unpredictable weather. It’s already impacting our ways of life. It’s already changing how we live on these lands.”

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.