Oil funding announcement just 10 days after COP26 'tone-deaf', says opposition critic

·4 min read
Jim Dinn is interim leader for the provincial NDP. He says the province needs to come up with a robust transition plan away from oil and gas. (Patrick Butler/CBC - image credit)
Jim Dinn is interim leader for the provincial NDP. He says the province needs to come up with a robust transition plan away from oil and gas. (Patrick Butler/CBC - image credit)
Patrick Butler/CBC
Patrick Butler/CBC

Over $35-million in funding will go toward 26 projects connected to the offshore oil and gas industry, Premier Andrew Furey announced at a press conference Tuesday.

But the timing of the announcement, a short 10 days after the end of COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, is problematic, according to provincial NDP Interim Leader Jim Dinn.

"Either the premier is remarkably tone-deaf or he has an enormous sense of irony," said Dinn.

Dinn says that even though Furey's announcement referenced the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy that will need to happen, there is no robust transition plan in place.

"What we have yet to hear is this government commit to a transition. A just transition plan that's going to protect our workers, is going to protect our economy, that's going to protect the environment, that's going to put Newfoundland in a place where it can reap the benefits of a green economy," said Dinn.

The funding is part of the $320-million Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Oil and Gas Industry Recovery Assistance Fund that was announced by the federal government last September.

The fund was created to support workers in the sector, but also to lower emissions.

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

Oil with a low carbon footprint from the province, says Furey, is the solution for the global transition period to renewable energy.

"As I said to people, to one person in particular in [COP26], 'How are you getting home?' All the planes in the world are still powered by petroleum products. We need to make sure that we are using our product," Furey said.

"We have an incredible product that is incredibly valued because of its low carbon footprint. It's not landlocked and…we can deliver that to the world right now during this transition over time."

Furey attended COP26 with a sales pitch for provincial oil and gas. Meanwhile, climate change advocates say that no oil can be clean or ethical.

The funded projects announced Tuesday are expected to create or maintain a total of 230 jobs in the province.

With almost $4.8-million of funding awarded, Pangeo Subsea Inc. received the biggest sum to develop technology that improves information-gathering during drilling operations.

The Fisheries and Marine Institute at Memorial University received more than $1.3-million to support the Subsea Centre of Excellence Development — and provide training for more environmental safety, so as to avoid oil spills, for example.

These are businesses that just can't turn on a dime - Andrew Furey

Furey says the funding was necessary to save the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"You can't forget how troubled people were at the time, how anxious companies were, how the global pandemic impacted the commodity price. Look, these are businesses that just can't turn on a dime," said Furey.

Dinn argues that oil companies are in a better position to face a transition to renewable energy sources than the province.

"The premier made note…that these companies, they 'can't turn on a dime'. The fact is they're already ahead of Newfoundland and Labrador," said Dinn.

"We gave a huge amount of money to oil companies last year under the assumption that as a result of COVID, they were struggling…Yet, this year they're doing well, thank you very much, and we're still handing out the money to companies whose profits are up. They've done very well. I think they've done a pretty good job of getting a deal and in many ways are still using our workers as ransom."

Yves Herman/Reuters
Yves Herman/Reuters

While Furey says that the funded projects will lower offshore greenhouse gas emissions through digitalisation, Dinn thinks the province should focus on the big picture.

The province, says Dinn, needs to use the potential of mineral resources that are needed for electric vehicles, but also invest in training workers for the renewable energy sector.

"How do we attract industries that are green industries that are at the cutting edge to this province? We've done a very good job of attracting oil companies here. Then should we not…think bigger instead of just picking around the edges," said Dinn.

"Oil production is not stopping today, but if the premier is acknowledging that we've got 10 years left, my God…our next priority is to come up with the plan."

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