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Offshore petroleum board refutes conflict charge

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Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 19.22.09JESSICA FLOWER: August 28, 2015 

Despite a U.K. newspaper’s suggestion of a conflict of interest in the Shell offshore drilling proposal approval process, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board says it’s confident the steps it takes to eliminate any conflicts or unethical dealings neutralizes any concerns.

The Guardian reported Wednesday about a potential conflict of interest involving a board member, Douglas Gregory, and the Shell proposal now under review.

Before retiring in 2003, Gregory worked more than 30 years for Shell Canada and Royal Dutch Shell, and opened Shell’s Halifax exploration office. In 2008, the federal Conservative government appointed him to the board.

Kathleen Funke, spokeswoman for the petroleum board, confirmed Gregory has never voted on a Shell issue.

Gregory is an alternate board member and, according to their governance charter, does not have voting privileges except when a relevant government member is unable to attend a meeting in person or by telephone, she said.

Funke said documents signed during the appointment process, conflict of interest guidelines and the governance charter “negate concerns with respect to potential for a conflict of interest.”

She went on to say that the final decision on the Shell proposal, under fire from various environmental groups for its 21-day blowout cap allowance, will be made by the CEO and not the board.

The CEO, Stuart Pinks, makes the decisions, Funke said, based on recommendations from petroleum board staff and advisers.

Susanna Fuller, the marine conservation co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, said the practice of having industry experts, like Gregory, on regulatory boards is nothing new.

“Where we have additional concerns is when there are regulatory changes, like the downloading of responsibility by the federal government a few years ago to the petroleum board, but there aren’t additional changes like added transparency or independence to the decision-making process,” Fuller said. The centre hopes to see an independent environmental specialist or expert on the board of regulatory bodies like the petroleum board, where issues like offshore drilling could potentially impact the ocean.


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