22 July 2010

Drill, baby, drill: Dunderdale rebuffs Quebec concerns about border, offshore oil spills

In a letter to Quebec natural resources minister Nathalie Normandeau, Newfoundland and Labrador deputy premier Kathy Dunderdale said that the provincial government had no plans for a moratorium on oil drilling offshore and dismissed any question about the interprovincial border in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The Montreal Gazette reported Wednesday on the exchange of correspondence between the two ministers in a story that highlights the border dispute and its impact on oil exploration in the Gulf.

According to the Gazette, Normandeau wrote Dunderdale to ask what measures were contemplated in light of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Dunderdale replied that Newfoundland had adopted "new oversight measures," had no plans for a moratorium on offshore drilling, and noted Normandeau's reference to a " 'cross-border geological structure,' by which I assume you are referring to the Old Harry prospect."

There’s no clear indication when the letters flew back and forth but the provincial government’s position has been clear since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in late April.

ood harry

Premier Danny Williams dismissed calls for an offshore drilling moratorium in early June.  As in his remarks in early May, Williams focused on three fields in the north Atlantic.  He ignored other areas including the Gulf of St. Lawrence where the Old Harry field promises to match or dwarf Hibernia in size.

Williams referred to meetings he held in Calgary with officials of two companies operating offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.  As CBC reported,

The premier said he's confident the companies are doing everything possible to prepare in case a similar situation ever happens off the province's shores.

"I also asked them to elaborate for me on what additional measures have been put in place and am actually in the process of preparing a list and would only be too delighted to provide a list of the safeguards that were in place and the additional safeguards that are being put in place," Williams said…

It was not clear from the context of his comments if he was meeting with them in his capacity as premier of the province or as their de facto partner in offshore oil development. In some respects that wouldn’t matter since under some conditions of the Hebron agreement, Williams is legally obliged to follow the position dictated by the oil companies to oppose any new regulations that would  - in the opinion of the oil companies – adversely affect Hebron development.

Corridor Resources holds exploration permits from Quebec and from the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board for the Old Harry field.  Work on the permits has been hampered by a dispute over the border between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador and by the absence of a jurisdiction arrangement between the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada over the seabed resources in the Gulf.

While Danny Williams has been focusing his public comments on the distant offshore – and downplaying the implications as a result -  a spill from any future Old Harry development could have disastrous consequences.  This map, produced earlier this year, shows a map of the British Petroleum spill superimposed on Old Harry.

The dashed lines represent interprovincial boundaries but, for Newfoundland and Labrador,  only the one between the province and Nova Scotia is formally in place.  The boundary with Quebec shown in this map has never been formally adopted.

- srbp -