Environmental groups appeal court decision upholding assessment of offshore exploratory drilling

Court decision to permit offshore exploratory drilling projects in Newfoundland and Labrador

Environmental groups appeal court decision upholding assessment of offshore exploratory drilling

Three environmental groups have appealed a court decision which permits offshore exploratory drilling projects in Newfoundland and Labrador to proceed.

In its decision, the Federal Court upheld the federal government’s regional assessment of exploratory oil and gas drilling in the province’s offshore waters. The court ruled that the assessment’s final report did not contain any material deficiencies and therefore, could not be set aside on that basis.

The court also upheld a regulation exempting future exploration drilling activities in the region from further scrutiny under the Impact Assessment Act of 2019. It held that the regulation met the “hallmarks of transparency, justification and intelligibility” and was “justified in light of the relevant factual and legal constraints.”

On January 11, lawyers from Ecojustice Canada, representing the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, World Wildlife Fund Canada and Ecology Action Centre, filed the appeal with the Federal Court of Appeal.

In a released statement, Ecojustice said that the assessment did not meet legal requirements for failing to consider the cumulative effects of all exploratory drilling projects in the province. It also said that the assessment sets a “poor and dangerous” precedent for future regional assessments, which could otherwise be a promising protective mechanism under the Impact Assessment Act.

Ecojustice also warned that the increased exploration activity in the province puts marine ecosystems at risk and threatens Canada’s ability to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

“To address the climate and biodiversity crises, Canada needs impact assessment laws that provide the highest standard of environmental protection,” said Jordy Thomson, Ecology Action Centre senior marine coordinator. “We are appealing this decision to strengthen the Impact Assessment Act and help safeguard sensitive Atlantic marine life.”

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