Environmentalists celebrate surrender of offshore oil permits in B.C.

Environmental groups that have been fighting for the end of offshore oil and gas development in B.C. are celebrating victory after the federal government announced the last remaining permits for Pacific Ocean exploration had voluntarily been surrendered.

Federal Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Wednesday that Chevron, the last corporation to hold the permits, had voluntarily relinquished them as of Feb. 9.

Jay Ritchlin, David Suzuki Foundation Director General of B.C., said he welcomed the news.

“I’ve been working on this for 20  years … Offshore oil and gas drilling doesn’t have a place in the future.”

Permits date back to 1960s

Originally issued in the late ’60s and early ’70s, permits were grandfathered in through policy reforms that were created to better protect delicate marine ecosystems.

In July 2022, Ecojustice Canada, on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation and World Wildlife Fund, filed an application in federal court aiming to extinguish all existing permits, which fell within the Scott Islands Protected Marine Area and the Hecate Strait/Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area.

The environmental groups claimed in court that the indefinite extensions of the terms of those permits are unlawful and contravene the Canada Petroleum Resources Act.

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Gregor Craigie spoke with Jay Ritchlin, Director General of BC and the west for the David Suzuki Foundation.

“Both protected areas are of outstanding ecological value and vulnerable to damage from human impacts, including oil and gas activities,” the court application stated.

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When the rules changed, permit holders like Chevron and ExxonMobil were supposed to negotiate with the minister of natural resources to convert them into exploration licences “within a prescribed time,” but “did not do so,” the groups claimed.

Those claims were never challenged as permit holders voluntarily surrendered their licences, resulting in the legal challenge being discontinued last year.

Fossil fuels ‘a losing bet’: Suzuki Foundation

Wilkinson said in an interview with CBC News that his government had made it “pretty clear that we’re not interested in seeing oil and gas developments off our coast.”

Ritchlin also credited the victory to First Nations opposed to possible exploration, and said he hoped years of advocacy from groups like his “added some pressure.”

And, he said, he hoped it would be a sign of more steps taken to wean Canada off of the extraction of polluting natural resources.

“I think the writing hopefully is clearly on the wall … these are losing bets if we continue to extract and produce, ship and burn fossil fuels.” 

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