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Canada announces new regulations for exploratory drilling offshore Newfoundland and Labrador

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Oilfield Technology,

Canada's Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has released a Ministerial Regulation to improve the efficiency of the assessment process for exploratory drilling projects in an area of the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore, subject to a series of conditions that focus on protecting the environment and ensuring meaningful Indigenous engagement.

This Regulation provides that exploratory drilling projects in a specific area of the Canada-NL offshore are excluded from the requirement to undergo a project-specific federal Impact Assessment. The Regulation has been made in consideration of the work done during the Regional Assessment of Exploratory Drilling East of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Regulation will apply to the area assessed by the Regional Assessment and to exploratory drilling projects when they conform to the rigorous environmental and consultation conditions outlined in the Ministerial Regulation. This regulation only applies to exploratory drilling. Proposed offshore oil and gas projects will continue to be subject to project-specific assessments under the Act.

This Regulation is informed by scientific data and analysis. It has also been informed by stakeholder insights obtained during extended public consultations on the Discussion Paper on the Ministerial regulatory proposal and during the Regional Assessment Committee's engagement programme that involved 41 Indigenous groups and 58 stakeholder groups, as well as federal and provincial government representatives and members of the public.

Exploratory drilling programmes are short-term projects and the environmental effects of these programs are well understood. The Regional Assessment affirmed that standard measures that have been applied to exploratory projects in previous years, such as spill response plans or scientific surveys to ensure marine areas are protected, can avoid and mitigate potential negative impacts to marine environment. The new Regulation will require compliance with mitigation measures and will further strengthen conditions to ensure that all exploratory drilling projects will be required to adhere to the same high standards of environmental protection established in project-specific federal assessment processes.

The Regulation requires that proponents consult with the independent regulator, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) and with federal authorities including Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Environment and Climate Change Canada, to ensure that all exploratory projects comply with a robust list of required conditions before, during and after drilling.

In addition to the Regulation, a Ministerial Response was published to respond to recommendations from the Regional Assessment Committee regarding climate change impacts in the offshore sector, tools to ensure ongoing stakeholder engagement, as well as research, protocols and data needs. The Response commits governments to developing and implementing a comprehensive and collaborative follow-up programme, working in partnership with Indigenous groups, the fishing and oil and gas industries, and non-governmental organisations, to ensure the information remains valid and up to date.

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