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Science Response 2020/033

Review of the Impact Assessment Agency’s Draft Regional Assessment of Offshore Oil and Gas Exploratory Drilling East of Newfoundland and Labrador


The Impact Assessment Agency (IAA), in collaboration with Natural Resources Canada and the Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) Department of Natural Resources, and guided by a Committee appointed by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), is developing a Regional Assessment (RA) pertaining to offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling east of Newfoundland and Labrador. The final Agreement to Conduct a Regional Assessment of Offshore Oil and Gas Exploratory Drilling East of Newfoundland and Labrador (hereafter referred to as “the Agreement”) was signed on April 15, 2019 between Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada as represented by the federal Ministers of the Environment and Natural Resources and Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Newfoundland and Labrador, as represented by the provincial Ministers of Natural Resources and Intergovernmental and Indigenous Affairs. On the same date, a joint committee was established between the Governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador. The roles of the Committee, as well as the Task Team and the Technical Advisory Group are described in the Agreement.

The RA is intended as a Regional Study pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA 2012) and will assess the potential effects of existing or future physical activities carried out in the Study Area (see Figure 1) which contains multiple current and proposed oil and gas exploration and production activities. The focus of the RA is to bring together existing and available data on the environmental setting of the Study Area, in order to provide a general, regional-scale description of key environmental components at a level of detail that is considered useful and appropriate for the purposes of the RA. According to the RA Agreement, the RA “will meet or exceed the rigour and performance of the current environmental assessment [hereafter referred to as impact assessment] and regulatory review process used for the approval of exploratory drilling.”

Once the Committee submits the RA, the Minister of ECCC will decide how the results will be used to help inform future project decisions for exploratory drilling in the Study Area. The Minister may also make regulations that would exempt future offshore exploratory well projects from federal impact assessment requirements “if they are proposed in the area where the RA was carried out and it meets the conditions for exemption established by the Minister in those regulations.” Proposed offshore exploration well projects that do not meet the conditions of the Regulation would be subject to a project-specific impact assessment. In addition, all exploratory drill projects, regardless of whether or not they meet the Regulation, would still be subject to other regulatory processes (e.g., a regulatory review under the Fisheries Act, Oceans Act, and Species at Risk Act conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada [DFO] through the Fish and Fish Habitat Protection Program [FFHPP]).

Figure 1: Regional Assessment Study Area. Adapted from Appendix B of the final RA Agreement.

On November 4, 2019, DFO’s Ecosystems Management received from the IAA a request to review draft modules of the RA. This review will be utilized by the IAA to further develop the RA. DFO Science was subsequently asked by Ecosystems Management to review draft versions of technical modules relating to the existing biological environment with the following objectives:

  1. For each draft module, verify the accuracy and completeness of the information that has been presented with a focus on the regional scale nature of the RA.
  2. Identify any highly sensitive areas and species (within the RA Study Area), that the RA Committee may consider applying special mitigations.

DFO Science also reviewed the Special Areas Module (5e).

A draft Table of Contents provided to DFO indicated that a Main Report will be written, which will reference supporting Technical Documents. The Main Report is expected to contain the Approach, Methods and Activities, the Environmental Setting, Potential Effects and their Management, Cumulative Effects, Integrating Indigenous Knowledge, Sustainability, Climate Change and other Considerations, and RA Recommendations and Conclusions. The supporting technical documents are expected to consist of several modules, with each module containing Sections which provide an overview of various components of the ecosystem, as well as the offshore exploratory drilling process and potential effects. The content of the modules (text and all mapping) are to be housed within a GIS system.

Science Branch undertook a Science Response Process (SRP) for the Review of the IAA’s draft RA of Offshore Oil and Gas Exploratory Drilling east of Newfoundland and Labrador for those draft modules that were provided. This Science Response Report results from the Science Response Process which took place on November 29, 2019 on the Review of the Impact Assessment Agency’s draft Regional Assessment of Offshore Oil and Gas Exploratory Drilling east of Newfoundland and Labrador. This scientific review was provided to Ecosystems Management to help form part of DFO’s response to the IAA on DFO’s review of the draft RA modules.

Since that time, the draft modules reviewed by DFO Science have been revised and published. Additional information on the Regional Assessment process can be found on the IAA website.

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