The Canadian government gave Shell Canada Ltd. permission to drill for oil off Nova Scotia’s coast — and the company doesn’t need to cap an oil blowout for 3 weeks, potentially wreaking environmental havoc on marine life and coastal communities.
Pending approval from the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB), Shell will begin drilling the first of two exploratory wells within the next few months.
On June 15, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, signed off on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s assessment of Shell Canada’s Shelburne Basin Venture Exploration Drilling Project.
The Harper government has accepted, with conditions, the environmental assessment that is one step in Shell Oil’s application to drill for oil off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Four ships are standing by in Halifax Harbour, waiting for Shell to get the green light to hunt for oil in the deep waters.
The two wells will be located in the Shelburne Basin about 250 kilometres offshore Halifax. The drilling would happen near major fishing grounds and the Sable Island National Park Reserve.
In recent weeks, concerns have been raised over regulations that would give the company 21 days to get equipment in place in the event of a major blowout.
A number of groups, including the Ecology Action Centre, Coldwater Lobster Association and Clean Ocean Action Committee, have opposed the idea of taking up to three weeks to cap a blowout.
A small group of fishermen, activists and politicians braved a cold, gray day to air concerns about offshore oil exploration during a protest on Shelburne’s waterfront on Oct. 3.
Queens-Shelburne MLA Sterling Belliveau said a plan that would allow oil companies three weeks to cap such a blowout was an insult to the fishing industry.
“It’s simply unacceptable,” he said.
As a result, the MLA is calling for an emergency meeting of the provincial Standing Committee on Resources to discuss the issue.
The company has plans to drill up to seven wells over a four-year period as part of a $1-billion exploration program.
It will drill another well called Monterrey Jack next year and then analyze the data culled from the two sites.
“If we find hydrocarbons in the first two exploration wells, after we’ve collected all of our data, after we’ve analyzed it, we may come back and drill three more exploration wells,” said Christine Pagan, the company’s venture manager for Atlantic Canada.
“But if there’s no success in the first two wells, and we’ve analyzed the data, we won’t be coming back.”
Shell has contracted the Stena IceMax, the drill ship it will use off Nova Scotia, for five years.
The ship, now being used in the Gulf of Mexico, can accommodate up to 180 people, though Shell will likely have 160 to 170 on board at any given time.
More than 100 of those people will be Canadian, half of them from Nova Scotia.
A standby vessel will accompany the drill ship at all times, and there will be three supply ships stationed in Halifax Harbour. Roughly 90 per cent of the workers staffing those vessels will be from Nova Scotia.
“On any given day, one or another of those vessels will be on its way, to or from the rig with materials and … whatever is needed for the operation,” Pagan said.
The U.S. requires oil companies to have blowout-capping equipment on site within 24 hours. Canada is giving Shell 21 days to bring equipment in from Norway after a blowout happens 5,000 kilometres away.