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Press release  •  3 min

Bay du Nord: A threat to Atlantic marine biodiversity

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Canada has approved an oil project with a 16% risk of leakage, threatening biodiversity whose protection is at the heart of COP15 which starts today in Montreal

Montreal, December 7, 2022 - As the UN biodiversity summit takes place in Montreal, Équiterre and Sierra Club Canada expose the contradictory nature of the Canadian government’s approach to biodiversity. The federal government claims to want to protect biodiversity, while on the other hand the same government approved the oil company Equinor to proceed with an offshore drilling project, Bay du Nord, knowing that it presents a 16% risk of an extremely large spill that could damage marine habitat.

Offshore oil and gas activity in Atlantic Canada poses a significant threat to the ocean ecosystem, as well as exacerbating climate change. A major spill or well blowout in the Atlantic Ocean would seriously undermine the surrounding marine environment and could potentially destroy the habitat of whales, fish, seabirds and many other animals.

"Canada can't claim to be a leader in biodiversity while approving a deep waters oil drilling project that puts marine life at risk. Doing so, it loses its credibility here at home and on the international scene"
-Marc-André Viau, Director of Government Relations at Équiterre.

16% chance of a spill

In the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada's (IAAC) environmental assessment report, Equinor claims that the risk of a major spill for Bay du Nord is very low (0.00013). However, scientists at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) who contributed to the Review of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), refute this assumption and say that, extrapolating the data provided by the oil company on the 40 wells under consideration for their 30-year production life, there is actually a 16% chance of an extremely large spill occurring. The most recent estimates indicate that Bay du Nord could produce between 300 million and one billion barrels of oil over its lifetime.

Moreover, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Science mentioned, among other criticisms, that the conclusions found in Equinor’s Environmental Impact Statement “lack credibility“ and that it “is not considered a reliable source of information for decision-making processes.” In that review conducted by the DFO in 2019 but published in January 2022, the DFO mentions it “had insufficient information to complete an ecosystem based assessment”, that the “risks were significantly underestimated” and that “risks of cumulative small events or activities were not assessed”. The DFO concludes that mitigation measures for vulnerable marine ecosystems were not included in the EIS and that no details were presented to a formal environmental effects monitoring program.

Canadian regulations: weak, outdated and dangerous

Current Canadian regulations do not require a company to contain a major oil spill within a prescribed time frame. Equinor estimates, in the event of a spill, it would take 18 to 36 days to install a well capping system at the site and up to 115 days to install a relief well - meaning that Bay du Nord’s oil could spill into the Atlantic Ocean for days at a time and wreck havoc on marine habitat. In contrast, Alaska’s regulation, which is best in class, requires a capping system to be in place within 24 hours of a spill.

The degree of responsibility is also an issue: in Canada, an operator is only liable if it is found to be at fault. If an accident is caused by a collision with an iceberg or an extreme weather event, liability is unclear. In contrast, operators in the UK, Russia, and Greenland are liable for any pollution caused, regardless of the reason.

Canada’s regulations do not prevent oil companies from drilling in sensitive marine ecosystems or culturally significant or high-risk areas. The risk assessment process does not include communities or local stakeholders, Indigenous groups, or even the general Canadian public.

Sierra Club Canada and Équiterre will host a projection at the Maison du développement durable, on December 8, starting at 5:30 p.m., to honor the beauty of the oceans and illustrate the vulnerability of marine creatures, in this case our great whales.

“Canada and Equinor are putting marine ecosystems at incredible direct risk while contributing to climate change that will also devastate oceans,” says Conor Curtis, Head of Communications with Sierra Club Canada. “Newfoundland and Labrador has vital fishery and tourism industries that would also be threatened by Equinor’s Bay du Nord oil project. We have other energy and employment solutions now like wind energy. There is no reason to risk the health of our ocean, marine life and ecosystems while putting taxpayers at risk of paying for cleanups.”

As part of COP15, a conference on the impacts of offshore drilling on biodiversity will also be held on December 13 at 7:00 p.m. at the Sherbrooke Pavilion of UQAM. Three speakers from international NGOs will discuss the risks that Equinor's projects pose to marine ecosystems and the means to counter them.

Media Contacts

Conor Curtis, Head of Communications, Sierra Club Canada Foundation, 709-638-0072,

Anthony Côté-Leduc, Communications officer, media relations, Équiterre, 514-605-2000,