Environmental considerations have and continue to be a significant factor related to petroleum activities offshore Nova Scotia. Developments in the last several years have produced the current regime that provides greater certainity for the petroleum industry and the public on the process and requirements to appropriately address environmental matters.
The Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) is a joint agency established in 1990 by the federal government of Canada and the provincial government of Nova Scotia to manage petroleum activities on behalf of both governments in the Nova Scotia Offshore Area (See Figure 1). The CNSOPB's mandate includes the health and safety of offshore workers, environmental protection, resource conservation, rights administration and Canada-Nova Scotia employment and industrial benefits.
Regulation of petroleum activities for the other offshore areas of Canada is undertaken by the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NOPB) for offshore Newfoundland and Labrador and the National Energy Board (NEB) for the remaining offshore portions (See Figure 2). The three regulatory boards work cooperatively to achieve a consistent regulatory regime to the extent practicable.
Environmental considerations are an important component of petroleum exploration and development offshore Nova Scotia, Canada. The environment is a component of the rights issuance process, exploration and development activities.
Figure 1 - Nova Scotia Offshore Area (Available in full paper)
Figure 2 - Canada Offshore Petroleum Regulators (Available in full paper)
With the exception of the Georges Bank area, where there is a moratorium on petroleum related activities until 2012, and the Gully that was declared a Marine Protected Area in 2004, the offshore area is open to petroleum exploration subject to compliance with good regulatory practices. Within the public, there has been some concern that there should be additional restriction on where and when petroleum activities can occur. The rights issuance process has been one aspect where it is proposed that additional environmental assessment be undertaken prior to issuance of petroleum rights.
Petroleum exploration rights are issued following a Call for Bids that identifies specific parcels of lands. Since 1999, an environmental assessment conducted by the CNSOPB has been part of the rights issuance process. This is referred to as a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) with the goal to identify any special environmental aspects that may require special measures for exploration activity. More recently, the SEAs have been conducted prior to the issuance of a Call for Bids to identify if there are areas that should be excluded from a call, as well as identification of any special requirements. Despite these efforts of the CNSOPB, there continued to be uncertainty for both the industry and the public if specific areas of the offshore were open to petroleum activity and if so, if there were additional regulatory provisions that would be required.
Early in 2005, the federal and provincial departments of energy provided policy direction to the CNSOPB, requesting that, prior to having a Call for Bids, SEA's be conducted in prospective areas that are outside of areas that have already had extensive exploration or production activity.