The last offshore oil and gas permits for Canada’s Pacific coast have been retired, Ottawa announced today. 

Chevron Canada voluntarily ceded 23 offshore oil and gas permits, the last in existence on the B.C. coast, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said at a Victoria press conference. 

Natural Resources Canada has now officially secured the surrender of all 227 permits involving historical offshore oil and gas rights along the Pacific coast, which has been under a federal moratorium on offshore oil and gas activity since 1972.

Ocean conservation groups had been pushing for the sunset of all outstanding oil and gas permits due to the threat of oil and gas activity in existing marine-protected areas (MPAs) and because they hindered the creation of a newly proposed network of ocean conservation areas on the coast, particularly in the Great Bear Sea region

The removal of the last offshore permits supports the federal government’s commitment to the marine conservation project led by coastal First Nations, also known as the BC Northern Shelf MPA Network. The Northern Shelf marine-protected area is one of four Indigenous-led projects across the country sharing $800 million in funding announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2022

“As a British Columbian, I’m very happy about the relinquishment of the permits,” Wilkinson told Canada’s National Observer, noting the move reflects most West Coast residents’ desire to protect the natural environment.  

“I think it’s a big step forward,” he added. “It provides more certainty and clarity and is focused on helping us do what’s needed from an ocean protection and conservation perspective.”

More than half of the Northern Shelf Bioregion — which spans the coast from Quadra Island north to the Alaska border and includes Haida Gwaii and B.C.’s central coast along the Great Bear Rainforest — has special biological and ecological significance, said Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). 

Today’s surrender will help meet the federal government’s promise to conserve 25 per cent of land and waters in Canada by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030, Wilkinson said. 

Conservation groups pushing for the removal of the permits also celebrated the news. 

Jay Ritchlin, western director general of the David Suzuki Foundation, congratulated the coastal First Nations’ leadership and work over decades to eliminate the threat of oil and gas permits, and the work of the federal government and other conservation groups pushing for the change. 

“It’s great to hear,” Ritchlin said. 

“I’ve been working on this coast for over 20 years and all that time, these permits have been a constant threat to one of the most amazing marine ecosystems on the planet.” 

If the permits had remained in place, the federal government wouldn’t be able to officially count any of the new marine-protected areas toward its 30 by 30 conservation target, he said. 

Now that those obstacles have been removed, conservation groups hope to see some rapid action and progress in making the new conservation areas along the coast a reality after decades of work on the plan by coastal First Nations, the province and the federal government, Ritchlin added. 

“We’d like to see that [marine conservation network] move ahead very quickly on the pathway to 25 per cent by 2025 because we’ve still got some work to do,” he said.  

The federal government doesn’t take action alone but in conjunction with its partners, especially its Indigenous partners, Wilkinson said. 

“We need to ensure that we take time so that everybody’s comfortable, but we all feel the urgency,” he said. 

“Not only because we have that 25 by 25 commitment, but also because it’s important we get them established in the context of trying to arrest the decline in biodiversity and help to ensure that our oceans are healthy going forward.” 

By Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 22, 2024 at 15:29