Harper says Canada should keep tough drilling rules

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

With files from Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday slammed BP PLC and its drilling companies for the Gulf of Mexico disaster, and suggested federal regulators will not change environmental standards as urged by some oil companies.

In the House of Commons, Mr. Harper said that his government has strengthened environmental regulation in the Arctic and that Canadian standards for offshore drilling are tougher than those in the United States.

The Prime Minister suggested the companies have been negligent in managing their drilling program in the Gulf of Mexico, where spewing oil is causing massive damage to fisheries, wildlife and the coastal ecosystem.

"The behaviour of the companies in question is completely unacceptable and would be completely unacceptable in this country," he said.

And Mr. Harper sent a clear signal to the National Energy Board (NEB) that it should reject calls from companies to amend the current regulations. "There are strong rules in Canada. There are rules for relief wells," he said during Question Period.

"The National Energy Board does not allow drilling unless it is convinced that the safety of the environment and the safety of workers can be assured. Let me assure all members of the House that we will continue to enforce stronger environmental standards in this country.

Several oil companies had been urging the NEB revisit its requirement that companies must drill relief wells during the same drilling season in which they sink their initial well, a practice that helps contain oil spills in the event of a blowout but is difficult to accomplish in the short drilling season of the Beaufort sea.

An NEB spokeswoman said yesterday that companies are now urging the board to suspend hearings on the offshore drilling rules in the Arctic until the causes of a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are determined.

The Deep Horizon rig, owned by Transocean Inc. , was drilling a well for BP PLC when a blast occurred, killing 11 people. Both companies are also active in the Arctic

ConocoPhillips Co. , Imperial Oil Ltd. and Transocean asked the NEB to put the proceedings on the backburner.

"Findings from the investigation into this serious incident can provide valuable lessons for industry to improve plans for future drilling programs. In addition, proceeding with the process at this time will result in speculation on the cause(s) of the incident," ConocoPhillips wrote in its letter to the NEB.

BP said in its letter it is focusing on its cleanup efforts in the Gulf, and won't be prepared to comment on the Arctic rules until its own investigation wraps up.