Harper can only say yes to oil companies

The recent BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico should serve as a wake-up call to all governments wrestling with how to regulate and develop offshore oil and gas supplies. These ‘unconventional’ oil and gas sources are expected to be developed and all signs point to this going ahead in a business-as-usual manner. New Democrats are concerned that additional controls are not being considered or that time is not being injected into the equation, as more licences for development in the Beaufort Sea are set to be auctioned in mid-July.

At a press conference last week New Democrat Leader Jack Layton called on the Prime Minister to keep his promise for a full and complete review into the safety of Canada’s unconventional oil and gas sector. A development that is unlikely to happen given the government’s full and complete support of the oil industry.

In June, all government and opposition MPs voted for a review of all relevant federal laws, regulations and policies regarding the development of unconventional sources of oil and gas, including oil sands, shale gas and arctic and deep sea drilling. Unfortunately the Conservative government has so far only committed to a limited and inadequate review by the National Energy Board (NEB). This is not too surprising since they argued against the review they later voted for as part of a public relations exercise.

The National Energy Board has been in the centre of a storm lately. This past spring parliament wrestled with an omnibus budget that, among many other things, handed the power for environmental assessment over to the industry-friendly NEB.

More recently the Harper government decided to continue subsidies to the oil sector despite G-20 motions that called for an end to the type of industry assistance. In a leaked document, Canadians learned that the Government will continue with $2 billion in subsidies to an industry that does not require such gifts.

What is important for Canadians to consider is that, as oil reserves become more remote and difficult to bring to market, much of the technology and techniques being used are unproven and experimental. For that reason New Democrats are calling on the Government to take additional measures that will ensure Canada’s review of industry safety is expanded to cover all unconventional activities in Canada.

There is an old saying, ‘actions speak louder than words.’ For this government, when judged on their actions it is abundantly clear, they are a government whose primary concern is the oil and gas industry. Although they support measures like the review they voted for in the House, they refuse to act in a manner that will help those decisions along. This should be disturbing news for Canadians. A disaster similar to the one in the Gulf of Mexico could well happen in the Arctic and if this government is unwilling to tighten regulations the odds of an environmental catastrophe increase.