Canada needs stronger offshore oil and gas regulations, WWF says in wake of oil spill | WWF-Canada

Canada needs stronger offshore oil and gas regulations, WWF says in wake of oil spill

Posted on 22 November 2018
Atlantic puffin, Bonavista Peninsula, Newfoundland
© Don McVee

ST. JOHN’S, NL, Nov. 22, 2018 – The largest oil spill off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador is a stark reminder of the need for tougher regulations and stronger oversight as the Canadian government strives to modernize the regulatory framework governing oil and gas activities in Canada’s frontier and offshore oil and gas areas. 

Sigrid Kuehnemund, WWF-Canada’s vice president of oceans conservation, says: 
“A spill like this is exactly the reason WWF-Canada has been calling for better offshore oil and gas regulations in general, from spill prevention through to response, for an extension of the moratorium on new oil and gas licences in the Arctic, and for a complete ban on industrial development in marine protected areas of all kinds. 

“This spill should serve as a wake-up call. The oil-coated seabirds we are seeing are just a fraction of those that will die because of the oil – and this time of year, the bulk of the world’s iconic, endangered Ivory Gulls are wintering in the Labrador Sea, Davis Strait and off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. These waters are hugely important for globally significant populations of fish at different times of year as well. Crude oil is a poisonous substance and doesn’t simply disappear. It sinks into the marine environment and continues to wreak havoc in the food chain.    

“This isn’t the first incident in the Atlantic offshore industry. We need a modern regulatory regime that prioritizes environmental protection, with stronger oversight from the offshore petroleum board and stricter consequences for not following environmental protocols. We also need independent observers on both rigs and floating production storage and offloading vessels like the SeaRose to monitor for adherence to protocols and impact on seabirds and other wildlife. 

“What’s more, as Canada seeks to modernize the offshore regulatory regime through the Frontier and Offshore Regulatory Renewal Initiative (FORRI), we question whether it’s even appropriate to task the offshore petroleum board with the role as lead regulator on environmental protection since it was primarily established, as stated in the Accord Act, to ensure economic benefits from oil and gas, rather than environmental protection. Given the scope of biodiversity loss here and around the world, and given the magnitude of this incident, it’s clear the offshore policy review under FORRI should be immediately suspended until the cause of this accident is fully investigated.           

“Finally, another complicating factor to consider here is climate change, and the resulting increasingly volatile storms at sea. As Husky Energy struggles to clean up crude oil in the midst of an especially intense storm, elsewhere other operators are looking to expand into environmentally sensitive and more extreme areas like the Arctic, and take on even more challenging projects – such as BP’s plan to drill in the Scotian Basin, in nearly 3,000 metres of water, much deeper than the water in which the Deepwater Horizon accident occurred.  
“We have 30 years of experience with offshore oil and gas production and shipping in the Atlantic, and we still can’t get it right. How then can this government allow for oil and gas development in marine refuges, and seriously entertain the possibility of lifting the moratorium on oil and gas licences in Arctic waters? The offshore boards have repeatedly assured the public that offshore operations are safe and there is nothing to worry about. This incident proves otherwise.” 
Impact of oil on marine wildlife: 

On birds: 
Oil coats seabirds’ feathers, depriving them of their waterproofing and insulating properties, leading to death from hypothermia.
On fish: 
The threshold for harm from exposure to oil is remarkably low in the early life stages, including for eggs, larvae and juvenile fish. 

Oil exposure in adult females contaminates their eggs resulting in heart defects and other abnormalities in larvae, which are detrimental to survival. 

Many fish species have planktonic larvae which live near the surface and can be exposed to oil, leading to deformities and death. 
On marine mammals: 
Oil adheres to and damages marine mammals’ skin, eyes and breathing holes. Inhalation of oil’s volatile and toxic components causes respiratory system damage. 

Consumption of oil or oil-soaked prey causes gastrointestinal damage. 

Gastrointestinal and other damage can occur due to excessive grooming by a mammal trying to remove oil from its skin or coat.  

Eye, skin and mucus-membrane damage can also result from contact with oil. 

Wildlife off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador: 
Marine birds, including thick-billed Murre, common Murre, Atlantic puffin, Razorbill, Leach’s Storm Petrel, Common Eider Duck, Black-legged Kittiwake, Northern Fulmar, Atlantic Gannet, Black Guillemot, various southern hemisphere shearwaters. 

Whale and dolphin species, including Humpback, Sperm, Blue, Minke, Orca, Beluga, Pilot, Bowhead, Right and Finback whales, White-beaked and Atlantic white-sided dolphins, and Harbour porpoises.  

Fish populations, including Atlantic cod and hake, flatfishes (turbot and flounder), pelagic fishes (capelin, sandlance and herring), redfishes (Acadian and deepwater) and many other important species (such as wolffish, or lumpfish). 

Invertebrates, such as snow crabs, northern shrimp, green sea urchins, corals and sponges, and most of the zooplankton (which are an important lower rung in marine food webs).  

About World Wildlife Fund Canada 
WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit 

For further information
Antonella Lombardi, communications specialist,, +1 647-668-4613 

Atlantic puffin, Bonavista Peninsula, Newfoundland
© Don McVee Enlarge