Canada lays down filing rules for offshore Arctic drilling

Canada's National Energy Board, in an effort to allay public concerns in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, released filing requirements for future applications to drill in the Canadian Arctic Offshore.

“Filing requirements set out the technical information we will need to see in future applications for offshore drilling in the Canadian Arctic,” said NEB Chair and Chief Executive Officer Gaetan Caron.

“These new requirements provide clarity to future applicants and to those who will provide input into the board’s decision to approve or deny an application for a well in the Arctic,” Caron said.

There is currently no offshore drilling in Canada’s Arctic and no applications for drilling before the board. But companies now licensed to explore in the Beaufort Sea would still need to respond to the newly released filing requirements in their applications.

Publication of the filing requirements follows several months of extensive consultation carried out across the northern areas of the country during the NEB’s so-called Arctic Review.

“During the Arctic Review, many northern residents stated that if drilling is to be authorized in the unique Arctic environment, it must be done right,” NEB said in issuing its report.

The report’s key findings include:

• The root cause of most offshore accidents is the lack of a broadly shared safety culture. In other words, people don’t do what they are supposed to do.

• The NEB has the necessary tools to protect the safety of workers, the public and the unique Arctic environment.

• Northern residents want their voices to be heard in future decisions about offshore drilling, and they want to be involved in preparing for future drilling projects, in particular in training for emergencies.

• The NEB has reaffirmed its Same Season Relief Well Policy. Any company wishing to depart from it in a future application for a well would have to demonstrate how they would meet or exceed the intended outcome of the policy, which is to kill an out-of-control well in the same season in order to minimize harmful impacts on the environment.

• During the Arctic Review, industry representatives acknowledged Northern residents’ concerns and committed to engaging communities in more meaningful ways, as early as possible in their planning processes.

• Industry representatives also spoke of developing and offering appropriate training opportunities to northerners to help prepare them for employment and business opportunities.

Trevor Taylor, policy director with Oceans North Canada, an arm of the US-based Pew Environment Group, felt the NEB review was "a positive first step" but he hopes for more clarity on specific issues.

Taylor said it appears that the NEB will consider the specifics of each energy company's safety plan on a case-by-case basis rather than by setting detailed requirements.

"Our major concern and disappointment with the report is that some of the clarity on Arctic filing requirements, on emergency response…is still lacking," he said.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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