Scotian Shelf Capping Device Needs to Come Home

The issue of drilling for fossil fuel off Nova Scotia is getting a bit blurred.

However, one thing is getting clearer by the day, an oil company’s plans to drill exploratory wells 250 kilometres offshore, on the Scotian Shelf is meeting stiff opposition, something obviously the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) overlooked when it approved the proposal in June.

The issue is not the actual drilling for oil and gas but the idea that when it comes to safety measures, the rules are significantly different here than at our neighbours house next door.

The United States government recently announced that drilling would be allowed in Alaskan waters if a capping device could be installed on a leaking well within 24 hours. The company agreed and the device will be on site.

The CEAA didn’t consider the proposal that a capping device for any blowouts on the Scotian Shelf sites (there could be up to seven exploratory wells drilled if the first one expected in 2017 is fruitful) would take from 12 to 21 days to arrive from afar. Shell Canada now says a backup capping device stack would be on standby either in Scotland, South Africa, Singapore or Brazil.

When the announcement was initially made, the oil company said it couldn’t afford the added expense of keeping the device at hand.

In other words, when the United States government made this capping device a stipulation for the approval of the Alaskan proposal, the company agreed.

When no such stipulation existed in the Canadian proposal, Shell chose the cheapest route.

And who will suffer if a blowout does occur — could be communities all along the shores of the Gulf of Maine, including valuable nursery areas like Georges, Browns and German Banks, that’s who.

But all is not lost.

The final word on the project will be made by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board  (C-NSOPB) in late fall. Then again this board has been harshly criticized for being top heavy with proponents of the drilling sector.

The board is presently conducting an extensive review of the drilling application and no decision has been made, either for the project or under what conditions it would be approved.

There are big bucks involved here and politicians of all stripes are keenly aware of the advantages such a huge economic bonanza would mean.

Nova Scotia isn’t exactly brimming with economic opportunities, as coastal communities shrink due to the out-migration of its workforce.

BP, for example, successfully bid $1.04 billion and was granted licences for four parcels about 250 kilometres east of Halifax. The company is committed to spend $1.08 billion exploring the leased sites.  Last year it completed 3D seismic testing on the 14,000-square kilometre area and the data collected is still being analysed.

As more people become aware of the significance of these proposals, especially in light of the Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico five years ago, questions are being raised and they’re all centered on the well capping device and its location so far away from the drill site.

An online petition against Shell Canada’s drilling project has garnered over 60,000 names.

And at least one fishermen’s organization from the area has voiced opposition to the project.

Bernie Berry, president, Coldwater Lobster Association out of Yarmouth, says the federal approval of the project was inconceivable considering that the commercial fishery in western and south western Nova Scotia is worth upwards of a billion dollars a year.

In a news release, Berry said the importance of Georges Bank to the fishery was paramount and could be destroyed by a major oil spill. He said if the fisheries and oil industries were required to co-exist, the fishing industry must be part of the planning process and this should include a comprehensive management plan to deal with oil spills.

The exploratory wells will be drilled in an area known for ‘perfect’ storms. When low pressure areas from the south meet up with their kinfolks from the west, all hell breaks loose.

It is also an area visited more frequently than the mainland by hurricanes and other major storms. And the cold Labrador Current, which runs parallel to the eastern shore of Nova Scotia, is also a permanent entity, as is the Gulf Stream which pushes in warm water from the other direction.

Nor’easters are not uncommon in that area during the winter months. A major blowout during this time of year would direct the oily muck towards the coast or, worse, the Gulf of Maine.

With a capping device at least 12 days away, or maybe even 21, this is a tragedy waiting to happen.

And it can be averted, now.

Shell should be told point blank that what applies off Alaska in terms of a capping device applies here, period. Surely our government entities have the guts to do what is right. Or have they?

We’re going to find out.

Alain Meuse

Contributor - Nova Scotia

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