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OTTAWA – Canada’s resource boom is outpacing Ottawa’s ability to safeguard important ecosystems from dangerous levels of pollution, the federal environment commissioner reported Tuesday.
In a series of audits, commissioner Scott Vaughan revealed a litany of shortcomings, including the failure to regulate toxic chemicals used by the oil industry and a lack of preparedness for major accidents, particularly off Canada’s East Coast.
Mr. Vaughan detailed Ottawa’s hands-off approach to hydraulic fracturing – a rapidly-growing and controversial oil industry practice in which companies inject chemically-laced water deep underground to extract natural gas and oil. His report noted the resource boom brings risks as well as opportunities.
“Given the central role of natural resources in the Canadian economy, it is critical that environmental protection keeps pace with economic development, Mr. Vaughan said in a statement Tuesday. “I am concerned by the gaps we found in the way federal programs related to natural resources are managed.” At the same time, Ottawa continues to subsidize the oil industry, though the level of support is declining, the auditor reported.
Over the past four years, the government has spent more than $500-million in direct subsidies, primarily for research and development. It has also given $1.47-billion in tax breaks, mainly in the form of accelerated write-offs for oil sands producers – though that program is being phased out.
Mr. Vaughan criticized Ottawa’s failure to establish more marine protected areas even as offshore resource development proceeds, including proposals for a massive expansion of oil tanker traffic in Canadian coastal waters.
The auditors found serious shortcomings in the preparedness of the federal government and the federal-provincial regulator for a major spill off Newfoundland and Labrador, where companies are drilling to depths several kilometres beneath the ocean floor.
Last week, Newfoundland’s provincial energy company, Nalcor, identified four new sedimentary basins in the ice-infested waters of the Labrador Sea as prime spots for further exploratory drilling.
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