01/17/2013 07:41 EST | Updated 03/19/2013 05:12 EDT

Federal review of $2B offshore projects assured

The federal government's new environmental laws prompted Nova Scotia's offshore regulator to seek assurances Ottawa will still be able to provide scientific advice on offshore energy projects, CBC News has learned.

The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board is rewriting its memorandum of understanding to "reflect that commitment," said Tanya Taylor-White, a spokeswoman for the board.

Taylor-White said Bill C-45 — a second omnibus budget bill that will change the legislation contained in dozens of acts including the Indian Act, the Navigation Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act — triggered the request.

Taylor-White said a new memorandum will be in place by the end of March and will provide assurances from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada.

Both federal departments are required to review environmental assessments of energy projects.

The stakes are high for Nova Scotia, where oil giants BP and Shell Canada have promised to spend close to $2 billion exploring for oil off the coast over the next six years.

BP alone has committed to spend more than $1 billion exploring those areas.

Shell Canada was also given exploration rights — two in the Sable Island area and two deepwater parcels — for its $32 million bid. That's combined with its January 2011 bid of $970 million in the hopes of finding deepwater oil.

"The CNSOPB has a solid commitment from EC and DFO that they will continue to provide advice and scientific review of our EAs," Taylor-White wrote in an email to CBC News.

The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board is an independent agency managed jointly by the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia.

Meanwhile, the provincial government told CBC News it is continuing to study the implications of Bill C-45. The act itself runs over more than 400 pages.

"We're still assessing what the changes will mean for Nova Scotia," Sterling Belliveau, the Minister of Environment, said in an email.

"The designation of physical activity regulations will go out for consultation later this year. This will help provide the full picture of what the changes will look like."