NDP Leader Jack Layton is calling for emergency government hearings into oil companies' operations in Canada to prevent an accident like the one that has sent millions of litres of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

"It's time that 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," Layton told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.

BP Exploration Company Ltd., which operates the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded and sank off the coast of Louisiana two weeks ago, has acquired three offshore licences totaling more than 6,000 square kilometres in the Beaufort Sea, the part of the Arctic Ocean at Canada's northwestern edge.

The company is not actively drilling for oil in the region. But according to a 2009 community update newsletter, it has conducted seismic tests that it bills as "the first step in our search for oil and gas."

The company plans to collect data -- including water chemistry, weather and ice conditions and wildlife presence -- from the three sites in the summer and fall of this year.

Other companies, including Chevron Canada and ExxonMobil Canada, have secured rights to explore the Arctic Coast for oil.

Layton said Sunday that BP and the others have also applied to the National Energy Board for an exemption, should they one day drill in the area, to a requirement that they also drill relief wells in the event of a blowout like the one in Louisiana. The April 20 explosion killed 11 workers and set off a leak that threatens to become the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.

"We're going to be urging that emergency hearings take place and that the experts be brought forward, including BP and the others, so that Canadians can know what the decisions are before us," Layton told Question Period. "And then we'll design a plan accordingly so that we can try to prevent what's taking place in the Gulf."

Layton called into question whether safety provisions sometimes used in place of relief wells, such as so-called blowout preventers, would work in the "very difficult, ice-infested waters of the Far North."

On Sunday, BP PLC chairman Lamar McKay told U.S. television that the Louisiana rig's blowout preventer failed and that work crews are still trying to activate the mechanism that's designed to seal the well and prevent a leak.

Layton said Canadian officials shouldn't take for granted that "there's an easy technological fix of some sort."