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July 13, 2024
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The world is on fire. Why is Canada considering massive new oil drilling? – The Guardian

A Norwegian oil company wants to drill 73m barrels a year off the coast of Newfoundland – the equivalent of adding 7m gas cars to the road
Coal and other fossil fuels are “choking humanity”. Those were the words of António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, in response to the sobering recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which warned that the world has a small window remaining to act before irreversible and catastrophic impacts are locked in.
People around the world are already paying the price with their lives and livelihoods. In 2021, the 10 biggest extreme weather events cost $170bn in damages.
Last year, the International Energy Agency and the IPCC both confirmed that in order to stay below 1.5C of warming, the expansion of oil, gas and coal projects must stop and a planned winding down of both production and emissions begin. Yet according to the UN Environment Programme’s Production Gap report, the world is on track to produce double the amount of fossil fuels that can be burned on the planet.
Canada and Norway are two of the world’s biggest fossil-fuel producers. While the two countries have demonstrated leadership in terms of putting a price on carbon pollution and getting rid of coal plants, they share a major blind spot when it comes to oil. Despite the IEA’s finding that no further reserves of oil can be developed if we are to meet global emissions targets, both countries have plans for expansion.
Case in point: a Norwegian company, Equinor, is now proposing a giant oil drilling project called Bay du Nord off the coast of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The project is estimated to produce up to 73m barrels a year, which is equivalent to adding more than 7m gas-powered cars to the road. This calls into question the Canadian federal cabinet’s commitment to climate action and risks local ecosystems and the fisheries and other industries that depend upon them. Bay du Nord would involve building the deepest production wells drilled in Canada; according to estimates by Equinor, a wellhead blowout at this location would take 18 to 36 days to cap.
The new Canadian cabinet was supposed to make a decision on whether or not to accept this project by 6 March, but has now delayed that decision by another 40 days – time, we hope, that they will use to plan a just energy transition instead of another oil project. This is the first test of their climate leadership and threatens their claims of being environmental champions.
The fossil fuel industry will make many attempts to frame this project as an issue of Newfoundland and Labrador’s economic interests. This is not the case. Recent polling shows that the majority of people in the province want a green economy. In St John’s, a city with a population of only about 100,000, thousands have joined demonstrations calling for climate action and protests extended well beyond the capital of the province.
Newfoundland and Labrador is also directly in the path of many severe climate impacts and the fossil fuel industry cannot provide a long term economic future for the province. A just transition for Newfoundland and Labrador is a win for the world and for the province but it will need the support of the federal and provincial governments to happen.
Action is under way in other jurisdictions and Canada risks being left behind. Eleven countries and subnational governments have launched the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, committing to no new expansion of oil and gas. Other leaders are acting as well. 2,800 scientists, 101 Nobel laureates and 170 parliamentarians from 33 countries, including many from Canada, have endorsed the principles of a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to end expansion, wind down existing production and scale up the shift to clean energy and low-carbon technologies.
It’s time for Canada to stop adding to the problem and put our political and financial resources into building renewables and electrification at scale to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Canada has already committed to stop financing oil and gas internationally, making it hypocritical to then support more oil and gas development at home.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there has been a shameful attempt by fossil fuel proponents in Canada, seemingly echoed by the premier of Newfoundland, to justify Bay du Nord as an answer for ending dependence on Russian fossil fuels, even though the project would take years to be operational and would have no impact on the immediate situation. These arguments by oil lobbyists and the premier ring particularly hollow as European countries now look to speed up a transition away from fossil fuels altogether, which would leave long-term projects like Bay du Nord even less economically viable then they were to start.
Ukraine’s own delegate to the IPCC has publicly criticized the world’s continuing dependence on fossil fuels as a cause of continuing Russian aggression that will only make climate change worse. In a world facing increasingly severe climate impacts that threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, and which will help drive future conflict, the fossil fuel industry not only cannot help provide global security but is instead a continuing detriment to it.
Let’s be clear, there is no such thing as “clean oil”, no matter how environmentally friendly or unfriendly the extraction process. It’s still oil, and it will still make climate change and the global situation worse.
Canada’s government has a unique opportunity to make a real impact on climate change and honor calls for change from within Newfoundland and Labrador by rejecting the Bay du Nord project and committing to a clean energy transition. This includes coming up with a plan to support oil and gas workers to shift into clean energy opportunities and other sectors.
Wasting time, effort and public funding to further entrench Canada’s economic dependence on fossil fuels is the opposite of Canada’s climate commitments.
Conor Curtis is a digital communications coordinator for the Sierra Club Canada Foundation and a researcher on climate change impacts and policy that affect his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador
Tzeporah Berman is the international program director at Stand.earth and the chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative


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