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Political pressure is building for more stringent safeguards against oil spills in Canada's Arctic as a result of the disastrous Gulf of Mexico petroleum slick.





Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton said his party will press this week for emergency hearings before the Commons Natural Resources committee to explore what should be done to toughen rules and practices governing petroleum activity in the North.

"It's time we took a lesson from what's going on in the Gulf and make sure we don't make the same kind of mistake in Canadian waters," Mr. Layton told CTV's Question Period yesterday.

Mr. Layton cited efforts by major oil companies to relax safety regulations for offshore drilling in the Arctic Beaufort Sea. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill comes from a well operated by British Petroleum, which is also among firms pushing for an exemption up North.

The NDP leader said he wants BP executives to appear before MPs as well.

Liberal environment and energy critic David McGuinty, who has been raising concerns about the risks of Arctic drilling, says he'd also like to see Parliament tackle the matter. "It's too bad we didn't look at this earlier," Mr. McGuinty said. "This is a real wake up call," he said of the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

Current federal rules in Canada require energy companies to complete a "relief well," a drilling technique that helps to stop oil leaks, in the same season as an original well is drilled. Many Arctic nations, including the United States, Norway and Greenland, have created such requirements as a means of ensuring that oil blowouts can be controlled before winter ice halts an emergency response.

Starting last fall, a group of companies operating in Canada began an effort to persuade the National Energy Board that technology has advanced so far that relief wells are no longer needed in the Arctic. New deep offshore wells in the Beaufort Sea will take two or three years to drill, making it impossible to drill a relief well in the same season, they say.

Mr. Layton said Canadians need a national debate on the risks of further drilling in the Beaufort.

"We're going to be urging that experts be brought forward ... so that Canadians can know what the decisions are before us and then we'll design a plan accordingly so that we can try to prevent [a repeat of]what's taking place in the Gulf."