Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey on Friday downplayed back-to-back setbacks for the offshore oil industry involving the federal government.
During an announcement about a plan to electrify the oil heating system at Memorial University, Furey tried to allay fears about the future of the oil sector, which is a key employer and a driver in the provincial economy.
Earlier this month, the Trudeau government delayed a final decision on the controversial Bay du Nord megaproject. This week, it delayed a call for offshore exploration bids.
“I fully appreciate the anxiety that this is causing, not just in the industry, more importantly to the families that are impacted and working in the industry,” Furey said in response to a question from CBC News.
“I am optimistic that we can get to a good place.”
Furey said people should not read too much into the delay for offshore exploration bids, echoing Thursday’s statement by federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.
The premier also repeated his support for Bay du Nord, which if approved would become Newfoundland and Labrador’s fifth field in production and the first to push offshore oil development into the deep waters of the Flemish Pass, about 500 kilometres east of St. John’s.
Norwegian oil giant Equinor and its partners plan to use a floating production, storage and offloading vessel, commonly known as an FPSO, capable of producing up to 200,000 barrels daily.
Environmentalists have been pushing the federal government to not launch another frontier in Newfoundland and Labrador’s oil industry, and for Furey to move Newfoundland and Labrador’s economic priorities to other industries.
Furey said the oil produced by the province — including from Bay du Nord — could fill gaps in supply caused by boycotts sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Newfoundland and Labrador has a large role to play, as does Canada,” he said.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February. If approved, it would take years for Equinor to bring Bay du Nord to production.
Bay du Nord needed for transition: Furey
Furey also said Bay du Nord has a role in the transition to renewable energy, noting that oil produced by the province is relatively low carbon, a point that climate experts have criticized.
“I think there’s an imperative that we really look to the federal government to ensure that this is going to be approved,” he said.
The provincial government, opposition and local oil industry has strongly supported the project, even as it has drawn the ire of some environmental groups.
In a statement on Friday, Sierra Club spokesperson Heather Elliott is “impossible” to justify.
“Scientists have warned that new production of oil is incompatible with climate targets and this project is not part of a just transition,” Elliott said.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change has called on governments to stop using fossil fuels.
O’Regan still quiet on support for Bay du Nord
Bay du Nord has reportedly been contentious in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, according to Radio-Canada, which reported in February that several Liberal ministers from Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia want to reject the project.
The final decision on the project rests with federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and is due April 13.
While speaking with reporters Friday at the same event at Memorial University, federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan again refused to say if he supports Bay du Nord, citing cabinet confidentiality.
He said the decision on the fate of the project is “very live” to the federal government.
“On the issue of the offshore, I think, to be honest, my credibility is pretty good,” said O’Regan.
“From the federal point of view, what we are doing now is trying to look after workers and reposition [the offshore oil industry] to lower emissions.”
While O’Regan remained noncommittal on the future of Bay du Nord, he did say oil industry workers would be needed for a transition to renewable energy.
“We need them to stay in this industry in order for us to be able to effectively lower emissions,” he said.
O’Regan said the federal government’s emissions reduction plan, due next week, will have more information on how it plans to reach net zero emissions.