Canada's looser offshore oil drilling rules a cause for concern

Posted May 12, 2010 by Stephanie Dearing
Canada used to have fairly strict regulations for offshore oil extraction endeavours, but if you ask the oil industry, the Canadian government hasn't gone far enough on relaxing the rules.
Offshore platform located in the Gulf of Mexico
Offshore platform located in the Gulf of Mexico
Chad Teer
But what Canadians are only just realizing is that Canada's rules for the offshore oil industry were loosened up last year, in a quiet revamp of regulations. The rewrite means that setting up new offshore oil wells is a little easier for oil companies, reports the National Post. While Canada and oil companies are at loggerheads over the regulations, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has alarmed Canadians, who fear the potential for a similar accident in waters off the shores of Canada.
The Globe and Mail reported Canada's Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, has been attempting to soothe those fears by saying Canada would never allow the situation to occur. But the National Post's Andrew Mayeda blew the story wide open, learning that Canada had been following the American lead of allowing oil drilling companies to set their own regulations.
The new rules were published by the government on December 9, 2009 for feedback, and came into effect on December 31, 2009. The new rules had been in the works since 2005.
The oil industry views regulations as "restrictive," thus wanting Canada to loosen up its rules even further. For its part, industry The industry takes safety seriously, and the industry employs safety devices such as blow-out preventors amongst other practices and equipment.
The Liberal Party has called for a complete moratorium on further offshore drilling projects, pending the creation of a spill plan. The Liberals are concerned with the lack of regulations and released a statement Tuesday that said the "... Conservatives’ only plan is to rely on the “technology, equipment and training” of the companies doing the drilling. Yet if a spill were to occur at the site of Chevron’s new oil rig off the shore of Newfoundland, it would take 11 days to get a ship to the site. Currently, only 10 percent of the oil spilled in an offshore disaster is actually recovered.
Changes to the Drilling and Production Regulations made by the Conservatives in December 2009 shifted the government’s role of prescribing how companies must operate and manage safety and environmental protection onto the responsibility of the companies. While the companies are now left to determine how to manage spill response and other emergency measures, government must now only consider these risks when initially reviewing drilling applications for approval."
The Conservatives have said, through Minister Jim Prentice as well as Transportation Minister John Baird, that the regulations currently in place are tough enough that Canada does not have to be concerned about a spill, reported
The Deepwater Horizon spill is still gushing out of control in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill occurred after an explosion and fire that decimated the rig.
Blowouts and rig fires are relatively common in the industry, as are spills.
The Canadian Parliament will be reviewing the safety of offshore drilling. Global TV reported that NDP MP Nathan Cullen requested the hearing. The Globe & Mail said the National Energy Board will also be conducting a safety review.
The National Energy Board (NEB), the main regulatory body for Canada's oil industry, announced Tuesday the agency is reviewing offshore drilling requirements for the Arctic. The review was prompted by the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. NEB's Chair, Gaétan Caron said "We need to learn from what happened in the Gulf. The information taken from this unfortunate situation will enhance our safety and environmental oversight."
A new well, Canada's deepest offshore, is currently being drilled by Chevron Canada reported AFP.
Canada presently has three offshore oil rigs: the Hibernia, the Terra Nova and the White Rose. There are two offshore natural gas wells off the coast of Nova Scotia.