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Report of the Terra Nova Development Project Environmental Assessment Panel

2.0 Fundamental Findings

The Panel has carefully examined all the information provided to it throughout the review process. It has considered the anticipated environmental effects of the Project, the efficacy of the mitigation measures proposed by the Proponents and the comments received from the public. The Panel concludes that the Project should be permitted to proceed subject to the recommendations in this report.

Recommendation 1:

The Panel recommends that the Government of Canada, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Board give approval for the Terra Nova Development to proceed subject to the recommendations in this report.

Two fundamental recommendations that provide a context for all the others are: that the precautionary approach should inform all aspects of the development; and, that the Board must be provided with adequate resources for the exercise of its mandate to monitor and enforce the conditions of development. 

2.1 Precautionary Approach

In the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, made at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the precautionary approach was recommended as the best approach to environmental management. Essentially it involves the application of prudent foresight, the recognition of uncertainty and error on the side of caution when decisions must be taken in a domain where knowledge is incomplete. Further, the approach recognizes that the burden and standard of proof should be commensurate with the potential risks to sustainable use of resources and to the environment. Participants emphasized that a precautionary approach should consider subtle, sub-lethal effects and not rely only on population impacts. Precautionary approaches have been applied in other contexts to specific resources, such as fisheries, and to general environmental integrity issues. A precautionary approach should include the use of environmental assessments, pilot projects, careful impact monitoring, cautious interpretation of data, and adaptive management when indicated.

The Panel believes a precautionary approach having those characteristics is a cautious yet practical way to minimize the impacts of offshore petroleum development and to reduce the risk that ignorance will lead to inappropriate action and avoidable environmental effects. The Panel feels strongly that the Proponents' and the Board's decisions throughout the life of the Project should be informed by this precautionary approach.

Recommendation 2:

The Panel recommends that a precautionary approach govern all aspects of the Terra Nova Development.

2.2 Role of the Board

The Panel is aware of the critical role of the Board in making the Project a safe and environmentally acceptable one. For this reason, the Panel has directed all but a few of its recommendations to the Board. In doing so, the Panel assumes that the Board will have the resources to respond effectively to those recommendations; and, to play its appropriate role in the monitoring of environmental effects and benefits of the Terra Nova Development; and, in the enforcement of standards, guidelines and regulations for the protection of the environment; and, to optimize Canadian, and in particular Newfoundland content; and, to ensure human safety. Further, the Panel recognizes that the Board's work will increase with the commencement of production at Hibernia, and with the start-up of Terra Nova, and with the intensification of interest in exploration off the coast of Newfoundland.

However, just as the overall workload of the Board is growing, its resources are shrinking. Since 1994, the Board's budget has been reduced by 26%, and its staff cut by approximately one-third. The Panel has made a number of recommendations that are contingent upon the Board's ability to play an active role in the monitoring of environmental effects of the Terra Nova Development; and, in the enforcement of existing or recommended standards, guidelines and regulations for the protection of the environment and for human safety. If the Board's resources are not sufficient to meet the growing demands placed on it by the expanding activity in the Newfoundland offshore, the Panel questions whether the Board can ensure that the Terra Nova Development, and future projects, can be carried out in a safe and environmentally acceptable manner.

The Panel notes that there has been an acting chairman of the Board since December 3, 1994. A temporary chair for such a long period undermines the credibility of the Board and calls into question the value placed on it by both governments. The Panel believes that it is in the best interest of the environment and of human safety, and indeed of the Province as a whole, to ensure that the most senior position in the organization is filled on a permanent basis as soon as possible. This will ensure the continuity and stability of the organization and will indicate the governments' support for the work of the Board.

Recommendation 3:

The Panel recommends to the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador that adequate resources be allocated to the Board for the implementation and follow-up of the recommendations of this report.

Recommendation 4:

The Panel recommends that the Board take a more active role in the exercise of its full mandate.