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A Closed Loop

Monitoring the regulators who regulate the monitors who monitor the regulators.

by Ian Lordon

On Canada's East coast, the offshore oil industry is regulated by small boards composed of appointed provincial and federal representatives. In the case of Nova Scotia's offshore projects, the regulatory agency is called the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, with five members who chair a number of committees responsible for regulating and monitoring the industry.

Mark Butler sits on the board's environmental committee. He sees the Canada Nova Scotia Petroleum Board as an awkward and under-funded organization when compared with similar government agencies monitoring other sectors of the economy.

One of the most obvious problems with the board (and in this sense it's similar to BC's Ministry of Forests) according to Butler is that it has a mandate to facilitate the development of the same industry it is asked to regulate and monitor.

Butler says the shortage of resources available to the board along with the inaccessibility of the rigs puts the onus of implementing regulations on the companies themselves.

"It's difficult to monitor," he says. "No regulatory agency wants to have a person on the rig twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year."

So the board relies on companies to report spills, conduct safety checks, and ensure equipment and training complies with the standards of the day. However, few spills are reported by companies and Butler suggests this could be because reports are often followed by charges.

The result is that despite its potential for environmental damage, the industry operates almost completely free of scrutiny.

"It's certainly not an industry that's under the watchful eye of the public," he concludes.

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