Shell green lit for Nova Scotia offshore drilling, promises to cap blowouts within two weeks

Greg Bennett gbennett@thecoastguard.ca
Published on October 20, 2015

HALIFAX - Shell has a green light to begin exploratory drilling in the Shelburne Basin.

The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board has issued operations authorization, it announced Oct. 20, so the Shelburne Basin Venture Exploration Drilling Project can start now that the company has promised a faster response to any offshore blowout.

The drilling unit being employed by Shell Canada, the Stena IceMAX, was already in the area doing preparatory work ‎for drilling operations.

“After an extensive regulatory review process, Shell Canada has demonstrated to the satisfaction of the CNSOPB that it will be taking all reasonable precautions to protect safety and the environment while carrying out the drilling program,” said Stuart Pinks, the board’s chief executive officer.

Shell Canada submitted applications earlier this year to the board for the deep-water drilling program 250 kilometres off of Nova Scotia’s coast. The initial phase of the program involves the drilling of two exploratory wells.‎

Prior to drilling the first well – Cheshire - Shell Canada must also receive a specific approval for the well from the board. The board expects to issue that approval within days, the media release said. A separate approval will be required, at a later date, for the second well, Monterey Jack.

Cap times, environmental concerns

The board had asked Shell to reconsider the length of time it would take the company to bring in a capping stack in the event of a blowout.

 “Shell Canada’s original submission proposed that, in the unlikely event of a blow out, the deployment of a capping stack would take up to 21 days. CNSOPB required Shell Canada to review the deployment time to determine if it could be reduced,” said Pinks. “Shell Canada has responded with a more optimized schedule that indicates that a capping stack could arrive at the wellsite, should it be required, within 12 to 13 days. At the same time, Shell Canada would also deploy a second capping stack as further contingency.”

The board said more stringent requirements including significant improvements to the blowout preventer were introduced after the 2010 BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. The board’s authorization does not OK the use of dispersants in case of a spill.

  “With the stringent requirements now in place for blowout preventers, independent well examiners, real time monitoring and CNSOPB’s deep water drilling oversight plan – all new requirements since the Macondo incident in 2010 - we are confident that all reasonable precautions to protect safety and the environment have been taken,” said Pinks.

Fishermen and environmental groups in the region have expressed concerns about offshore drilling, including worries regulations on exploratory drilling won’t be enough to protect the ocean from an event like the BP blowout. An Oct. 3 protest drew a small group of activists and politicians to Shelburne’s waterfront to show concerns about the Basin plans.

Premier welcomes drilling rig

Premier Stephen McNeil welcomed the arrival of Shell Canada's offshore drilling vessel.  

The vessel, owned by Stena Drilling of Aberdeen, Scotland, is conducting the $1 billion exploration program. The company submitted a successful bid for the area in 2012.

"This is an important day in Nova Scotia's economic history," said McNeil. "Offshore development is one of our most exciting opportunities for growth and I am thrilled Shell is committed to further exploring our offshore potential by drilling its first deep-water well."

The premier noted that Nova Scotians are among the IceMAX crew and several local companies are lined up to supply goods and services to the ongoing project.

BP, which bid on four parcels covering almost 14,000 square kilometres, about 300 kilometres off the coast of Nova Scotia, could drill its first exploratory well in 2017.