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Can’t touch this: Arctic oil and NL

By: | February 5, 2015

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t get the memo about climate change

Jon Parsons
Power and Dissent offers a critical take on culture, society and politics in Newfoundland and Labrador

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Photo by Arturo de Frias Marques.

Our provincial government is terribly hypocritical in its attitudes about climate change and oil development. Government created the Office of Climate Change, yet at the same time continues to support and facilitate the expansion of the fossil fuel industry.

Through crown corporations and agencies like Nalcor and C-NLOPB, government has accepted record bids on exploration areas in the Flemish Pass, in areas offshore Labrador, and in the NL portion of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Nalcor Energy recently paid $55,000 to be the only platinum sponsor of an oil and gas licensing summit in London in order to promote the opportunities in NL’s offshore.

Does this sound like the actions of a government that is serious about climate change? Where are the news stories about Nalcor sponsoring alternative energy summits or supporting companies interested in developing wind, solar, or geothermal energy? Where is government on legislating a carbon tax?

Perhaps the Office of Climate Change did not get the memo from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), saying that, in order to avoid catastrophe, 80% of known reserves need to stay in the ground. Because if they had gotten the memo, the NL government certainly wouldn’t be moving full-speed-ahead with developing new oil projects, would they?

NL and Arctic oil

Along with this hypocrisy, the government’s most egregious misstep is its Arctic oil ambition. There’s lots of oil in the Arctic, with the biggest portion in the Kara Sea on Russia’s continental shelf, but Canada and the U.S. also have significant potential reserves.

In recent years, the provincial government has made it abundantly clear that it is keen to make NL a launchpad for Arctic oil development, drawing on local experience in offshore, cold water oil extraction. Along these lines, Newfoundland and Labrador will host the 2016 Arctic Technology Conference and the government has also been promoting its Arctic Opportunities Initiative across the province.

The problem with this promotion of Arctic oil development is that, once again, it flies in the face of the best available science on climate change, such as the report by the IPCC. IPCC findings were bolstered by a newly released report in the journal Nature, showing exactly which fossil fuel sources need to be left in the ground (check out the Guardian article on this report here with helpful graphics). Along with noting that the vast majority of Alberta’s tar sands need to be left alone, the study shows that all Arctic oil needs to be left in the ground.

This is to say there is no point whatsoever exploring for Arctic oil, that there is no point whatsoever for Newfoundland and Labrador to try to become a leader in Arctic oil, and that any government or company pushing for Arctic oil development is recklessly ignoring the best available science.

Arctic oil is a doomsday scenario. If Arctic oil proceeds, it will be time to take seriously the most pessimistic projections for the future. Arctic oil will be a sign that things have gone beyond the point of no return, and that governments and corporations either do not care or are resigned to a grim fate for us all.

If government won’t, we must

Government needs to stop promoting and enabling new oil developments, needs to stop banging the Arctic oil drum, and needs to move in an assertive manner on alternative energy now. Looking at government’s track record of hypocrisy (i.e. having an Office of Climate Change while unashamedly promoting expansion of the oil industry), it seems unlikely any of these things will come to pass.

Here in our sleepy little corner of the world, it may seem we are separate from significant global issues like climate change. But just as our government recognizes the potential for the province to be a hub for expanding oil activities, those concerned about climate change must also come to see the province as a potential hub and focal point for resistance to oil.

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