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New regulations improve review process for exploration projects offshore Newfoundland and Labrador

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The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that projects are assessed in a manner that maintains high standards of environmental protection. The Government is also committed to ensuring that such processes are efficient and enable good projects to proceed.

The Government of Canada recognizes the value of the Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) offshore petroleum sector to the province and the country and the importance of the sector remaining competitive on the global stage while protecting the ocean and marine life. 

Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, 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 is the result of an extensive and rigorous Regional Assessment process, and is informed by science and stakeholder feedback. It establishes a clear and efficient process for the assessment of exploration projects, subject to mitigation measures and regulatory conditions that uphold the highest environmental protection standards. Our objective is to improve efficiency of the assessment process of these projects while continuing to safeguard the environment," said
Wilkinson. 

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. This work was undertaken as part of a collaborative process between the Government of Canada and the Government 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. 

Seamus O'Regan, Minister of Natural Resources, said "Today, the regulatory process to do business in Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore has become more efficient, while upholding the highest standards of
environmental protection. This brings predictability and certainty for investors, making the province a more internationally competitive place to invest, which will drive economic prosperity for people here and across Canada."

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 program that involved 41 Indigenous groups and 58 stakeholder groups, as well as federal and provincial government representatives and members of the public.

Exploratory drilling programs 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 require 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. 

"Through our significant work with industry and federal government in this priority area, we have a new regional assessment process in the province that will shorten timelines for exploration drilling program approval while protecting the environment," commented Newfound and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball. "Two important areas of consideration for companies looking to make global
investment decisions. We look forward to continuing this work with the federal government to support the offshore oil and gas industry in Newfoundland and Labrador."

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 program, working in partnership with Indigenous groups, the fishing and oil and gas industries, and non-governmental organizations, to ensure the information remains valid and up to date.

This announcement is another step towards fulfilling the government's commitment to protecting the environment while ensuring that good projects can move forward in a timely manner. The Ministerial Regulation will serve as an important regulatory measure that will help industry while protecting the environment, and will make Newfoundland and Labrador a more attractive place to explore and invest.

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