This morning, Canada’s Environmental Commissioner warned of major shortcomings in the federal government’s regulation of offshore oil exploration, a problem I pointed out in a 2010 Globe and Mail op-ed, entitled “If there’s an oil spill, who’s at risk? Canadian taxpayers.”

As I said back then, the important questions are, “how much would it cost to clean up an oil spill off Canada’s coastlines and, more importantly, who pays?”

The major problem, as reported by Shawn McCarthy in today’s Globe and Mail, is that oil companies “enjoy a a cap on their liability of $40 million in the North and $30 million off the East Coast unless negligence is proven” (Read the story here). The damages in British Petroleum’s 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico are estimated at $40 billion — 1,000 times the Canadian liability cap.

Here’s what we think
Canadian taxpayers’ exposure to the proven financial risks of ecological catastrophe demands a comprehensive and independent review of these industry-friendly rules.

Oil companies should face unlimited absolute liability for spills, in accordance with the polluter pays principle;
Phasing out our heavy reliance on fossil fuels, instead of pursuing ever more remote and difficult-to-bring-to-market reserves is the best way to avoid catastrophic oil spills.