Alan Tonks, the federal MP for York South-Weston, sits on the Standing Committee for Natural Resources, a federal committee that oversees drilling for oil and gas. For the past two weeks, the SCNR has been interviewing experts and industry representatives and questioning their preparedness for a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon.
On May 13, the committee’s most notable guests were Anne Drinkwater, the CEO of BP Canada, and Gaéton Caron, the CEO of the National Energy Board, the federal agency that regulates drilling. Both Drinkwater and Caron were given some rough handling, particularly by the NDP’s Nathan Cullen.
Cullen unsparing questions of Caron and accused the NEB of being a booster for big business, saying it is a “promoter of the oil and gas industry” and has been replacing regulations with guidelines.
Cullen asked Drinkwater and Caron about the oil industry’s plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean. The most contentious issue was the oil industry’s desire to reduce regulations, in particular the requirement for relief wells (used to end spills) to be drilled in the same year as leaks Because the summer is short and drilling can only be done where there is no ice, wells could leak catastrophically from one summer until the next if the industry is allowed this reduction in oversight.
Cullen hammered Drinkwater with tough rhetorical questions, saying, “two weeks before your rig caught fire… your company was in front of Canadian regulators asking for the relief well requirement to be lifted… Do you think that was a bad thing to ask for? And do you still support British Petroleum and other oil companies’ request to remove that safety regulation?”
The Bloc’s Paule Brunelle also asked tough questions of the Association of Energy Producers and BP but spread her fire over many targets. The Conservative and Liberal members were not particularly offensive to the delicate sensibilities of their guests. Tonks, unfortunately, said very little, leaving most of the work to Larry Bagnell, the Liberal MP from Yukon.