All the name changes in the world will not hide what Bay du Nord has always been

Environment and climate change Steven Guilbeault — seen at the COP26 environmental summit in Scotland last November — defends the government’s approval of Bay du Nord. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The federal government appeared to be doing everything possible on Wednesday to do not make a big deal out of the news that the Bay du Nord offshore oil megaproject has cleared what may be its biggest hurdle: environmental assessment approval.

This decision was expected last year. Then it was pushed back to March, then pushed back to this week.

Once made, the decision was certainly not something the Trudeau government trumpeted. There was no big press conference. In fact, the decision was quietly posted online late Wednesday afternoon, although there has already been strong national attention because information leaked hours before about the key facts.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault paused later in a scrum with reporters on Parliament Hill to confirm the news.

The timing is really important to note: this all happened as late as possible in the workday, on the eve of the annual federal budget. Budget day is a news blizzard that the government knew would change the direction of the country and the news agenda.

The names, they change

In the days before the federal government’s announcement of Bay du Nord – a $12 billion project by Norwegian firm Equinor that could extract around 300 million barrels of oil from the high seas territory – was effectively underway, A few curious things happened, all of which seemed to set the table for how politicians frame huge, new oil development while simultaneously dealing with the urgency of climate change.

The day before, the federal and Newfoundland and Labrador governments removed the word “petroleum” from the name of the regulator which has been monitoring the offshore oil industry since 1986. Once the legal technicalities are ironed out, the former C-NLOPB will be known as the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Energy Board, or C-NLOEB .

WATCH: Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault speaks to reporters about the conditions imposed on the Baie du Nord project:

Environment minister approves controversial Bay du Nord project

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said he had approved the project on the condition that it reach net zero by 2050. 1:48

It’s not just a change of name, but of mandate: the council will now be in charge of developing offshore renewable energy. Think of offshore wind turbines, for example.

On the same day, the provincial government also decided to lifting a long-standing moratorium on down wind energy. Indeed, it has been illegal for 15 years for any private company or citizen to generate electricity with the wind, in a province famous (perhaps infamous) for its violent winds.

Change has certainly been in the air in the oil, uh, energy industry lately. In March, NOIA (formerly the Oil and Gas Industries Association of Newfoundland and Labrador) changed its name to Energy NL, while announcing that its members wanted to expand into other energy frontiers, including including renewable energy.

Net-zero still a goal for the federal government

From the perspective of oil development proponents, all of these things seem to be softening the waters for the biggest announcement of all, which was Bay du Nord.

Which wasn’t about renewables, just – undeniably – oil.

It was certainly something to see Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist who scaled the CN Tower in 2001 to protest inaction on climate change, defending the North Bay, which will extract oil from the ground for decades.

Guilbeault insisted that Bay du Nord will only apply a host of conditions – 137 of them, including one that the project will be net zero emissions by 2050.

It’s like saying…we’re going to add a bunch of kale to our diet so we can keep smoking.-Angela Carter

It’s no surprise that environmentalists are furious at the move and disappointed that a former campaigner has endorsed a mega-project in the industry he once fought against.

Canada, after all, is struggling to come close to meeting its climate change goals. This struggle has been underlined by increasingly dire warnings; in February, the same month as the news of a split within the cabinet emerged on North Bay, the The UN released the darkest report yet of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

No wonder the Trudeau government tried to make a decision on Bay du Nord and then play its cards in front of the public.

You could see Guilbeault struggling with this after the news. While he was tweeting several times Thursday on the federal budget and its climate change implications, he tweeted nothing at all about Bay du Nord. When he did an accountability interview with CBC’s power and politicsHe said Bay du Nord was part of the government’s overall strategy, though he emphasized goals such as ensuring Canadian cars are gasoline-free by 2035. (He noted that he still doesn’t own a car himself.)

WATCH: Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos asks Steven Guilbeault if he’s hypocritical about climate change:

Federal government approves controversial offshore oil megaproject in Newfoundland and Labrador

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault responds to criticism over the government’s approval of Bay du Nord, which activists say is investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure and exacerbating climate change. 10:00

As for the anger of environmental activists, Guilbeault said: “I certainly understand why for many environmentalists this project was a symbol.”

Kale, cigarettes and branding

Angela Carter, a Newfoundlander who teaches at the University of Waterloo and author of Fossilizeda scathing book scolding the oil-producing provinces, said the federal government simply couldn’t have it both ways.

Professor and author Angela Carter says her home province of Newfoundland and Labrador needs to move away from fossil fuels. (Submitted by Angela Carter)

“We can’t make these lofty emissions reduction commitments and increase oil and gas production. Those two things are diametrically opposed,” Carter said in an interview that aired over the weekend on CBC-Radio What the hell. “It’s like saying…we’re going to add a bunch of kale to our diet so we can keep smoking.”

LISTEN: Angela Carter says the federal government cannot simultaneously address climate change and approve new oil developments:

What on earth14:33‘It’s a signal we haven’t really changed’: Professor on Bay du Nord deal

Angela Carter of Newfoundland, an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo and a member of the Netzero Advisory Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, says the federal government cannot make “high” commitments to reducing emissions and increasing oil and gas production through approval. of North Bay. 14:33

The message from Ottawa and particularly St. John’s involves words like “transition,” a point Premier Andrew Furey made Wednesday night at remarks that obviously weren’t just rushed after the environmental assessment approval is posted.

As a reminder: Bay du Nord will be overseen by a renamed regulator, boosted by a renamed industry group and led by a renamed company four years ago.

Equinor, you will recall, was called Statoil. He changed his name to embrace other energetic opportunities – he wants to be a world leader in offshore wind energy, a fact that surely needs to be noticed at the Confederation Building — but there were also really practical reasons as well.

In 2001, long before becoming Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, right, was a Greenpeace activist who scaled the CN Tower in Toronto to protest Canada’s climate change policies. He was taken along with his colleague Chris Holden, left. (Aaron Harris/The Canadian Press)

“A name with ‘petroleum’ as a component would increasingly be a disadvantage”, Equinor CEO Eldar Saetre said in an interview in 2018 with the Reuters news agency.

“None of our competitors have this. It has served us really well for 50 years [but] I don’t think it will be the best name for the next 50 years.”

So, you can take the name of an oil company, an agency, a group or a council.

Removing oil from the economy, however, is another matter altogether, as any member of the federal cabinet will tell you.

Read the Federal Environmental Approval Decision on Bay du Nord:

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