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Environmental groups sue feds to overturn Bay du Nord approval

A group of protesters stood outside Equinor headquarters in St. John’s Wednesday to denounce the approval of the Bay du Nord oil project. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Enivronmental law group Ecojustice has launched a lawsuit against the federal government that aims to overturn the massive Bay du Nord oil project off Newfoundland’s east coast.

Ecojustice, which filed the lawsuit in federal court, is working with Équiterre, a non-profit environmental organization based in Quebec, and the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, which has spoken out against the offshore oil megaproject. 

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault announced approval of Bay du Nord — a project led by Norwegian oil giant Equinor, which hopes to start producing oil as early as 2028 — in April. 

The suit names Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) and Equinor. 

While announcing approval, Guilbeault said the project would not have significant adverse environmental effects because of mitigation measures that will be in place. Guilbeault, who based his decision on the work of the IAAC, put the project under 137 conditions.

But Ecojustice lawyer Ian Miron said Guilbeault failed to account for key factors during the decision-making process.

“The minister had a legal obligation to evaluate the downstream greenhouse gas emissions that the project will generate when he conducted the environmental assessment. And that he failed to do that,” Miron told CBC News Wednesday.

Miron said Ecojustice also plans to argue other factors should have been considered in the decision, including the impact that added shipping traffic could have on biodiversity in the region.

He hopes the lawsuit can be heard in court by the end of the year.

Bay du Nord could produce up to 200,000 barrels of oil daily, with current estimates of more than a billion barrels being pumped over the project’s lifetime. 

Both Equinor and the provincial government have insisted the project will limit harm to the environment, produce lower-carbon oil and be net zero in emissions by 2050.

In a statement to CBC News, Equinor said it appreciates that there are differing views on the project but see the upside of developing in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Our focus is on the collaborative effort with partners and local authorities to mature the project towards an investment decision. We strongly believe that this can be an important project with high value creation, a low carbon footprint and strong economic value for the region,” the company’s statement said.

The IAAC told CBC News it is aware of the lawsuit and is preparing to oppose the application.

Protesters hit the ground Wednesday

Meanwhile, opponents of the project demonstrated Wednesday outside Equinor’s St. John’s headquarters. The parent company was at the time holding its annual general meeting in Norway.

Protesters held signs and rallied in downtown St. John’s, chanting phrases like “Oil and gas is in the past” and “From Stavanger, Norway to Stavanger Drive, gas and oil has got to die.”

Eqiunor’s Bay du Nord oil project was approved for development in April. A new lawsuit aims to overturn the decision. (Equinor)

Yvonne Earle, representing the Avalon chapter of the Council of Canadians, said governments at all levels need to be held accountable in a transition away from oil and gas. 

“Analyze the moral and economic madness, and reject moving ahead with Bay du Nord,” Earle said. “And plan for a just transition, and I mean a just transition, for all workers from a fossil fuel economy.”

Miron said the project is incompatible with Ottawa’s plan for a “climate-safe future.”

“Simply put, our position is that this project is just not compatible with what the science is telling us,” he said. “Climate change doesn’t respect political boundaries, and the emissions produced from consuming this oil are the same emissions, regardless of where the oil comes from.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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