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article imageCould a BP-like disaster happen in Canada?

By Alixandra Gould     Jul 13, 2010 in Environment
It has been over two months since the BP oil spill began. With sludge still gushing into the Gulf, it appears that government and industry have learned that prevention is the best method. But can we say the same for regulators in Canada?
On April 20, 2010, British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon began leaking thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day.
On Monday, the U.S. Interior Department released a new memorandum on offshore oil drilling that will suspend drilling activities by November 30 based on "drilling configurations and technologies." In a statement to the press, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, "More than eighty days into the BP oil spill, a pause on deepwater drilling is essential and appropriate to protect communities, coasts, and wildlife from the risks that deepwater drilling currently pose.”
These new regulatory measures have not been echoed in Canada. The Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Drilling Board is accepting new bids for offshore drilling ventures, most far more ambitious than the BP rig in the Gulf. Additionally, Chevron Canada began exploration of the Orphan Basin off the coast of Newfoundland in June by drilling 2,600 metres below sea level — that's 1,100 metres below the Deepwater Horizon — setting a record for offshore drilling in Canada.
This comes after the Harper government relaxed offshore drilling regulations in December, giving industry more flexibility when it comes to safety.
Regulations have remained lax on land as well. On April 22, 2010 — two days after the disaster in the Gulf — it was announced that the Alberta Energy and Resources Conservation Board approved plans for Syncrude that delay the implementation of liquid tailings clean up. Such allowance does not comply with Alberta's Directive 074 that sets the regulations for tailing pond clean up.
Seven out of the nine oil companies operating in the oil sands said they have no plans to comply with Directive 074. These tailing ponds are pools of liquid toxic waste, spanning 170 kilometres, that result from the extraction process. They run the risk of spilling toxic waste into the Athabaska River if one of the walls or dikes breaks. Dr. David Schindler, a highly respected water scientist told the Edmonton Journal that such a breach would make the world "forever forget about the Exxon Valdez."
Despite pressure from the NDP to tighten oil and gas safety regulations, no plans have been announced.
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