NFLD spill shows Canada not prepared for oil disasters at sea: Sierra Club
The Sierra Club of Canada says if anyone needs proof this country is not prepared to handle a major oil spill and is lax in regulating its offshore industry, they need look no further than to what’s currently floating off the coast of Newfoundland.
On Friday, an estimated 250,000 litres of crude oil spilled from a flowline on the SeaRose floating, production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel, which is about 350 kilometres from St. John’s in the White Rose oilfield.
“Husky is reporting they are unable to confirm extent of spill, never mind try and clean it up — a virtually impossible task in seven-metre seas,” Gretchen Fitzgerald, national program director for the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, said in a statement.
On Saturday, Husky Energy officials said they were still waiting for swells to subside before trying to determine that, as well as what caused the spill. Two oil sheens had been seen on the sea surface, but the company said today no additional oil has been spotted.
“The subsea intervention vessel, Skandi Vinland, was able to start its remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) survey of subsea assets today,” Husky spokeswoman Kim Guttormson said.
“The ROV crew will look to further isolate flowlines within the subsea network. Observation flights and on-water surveys have not identified additional sheens in the field over the last couple of days.”
As for whether it’s a “batch spill” or if the SeaRose is still leaking crude, she said: “The ROV is still deployed. There have been no indications, based on both aerial and on-water surveys, that additional oil has been spilled.”
Vanessa Adams, press secretary to Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi, said the Canadian Coast Guard and representatives of the Eastern Canada Response Corporation flew over the area Saturday morning to assess the situation. The Coast Guard remains in contact with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) and Environment and Climate Change Canada as Husky conducts an assessment and puts its response plan in place.
“We are thankful to hear that there were no injuries, and that all wells are in a safe state,” Adams said.
Husky’s Guttormson said the company has been doing on-water monitoring for oil sheens and affected wildlife, and another observation flight planned for this afternoon will be looking out for wildlife. Vessels sailing to the field are carrying additional wildlife observers, as well.
Never before has so much oil been spilled off Canada’s East Coast, according to estimates. Until now, the worst industry disaster was when a malfunction on the Terra Nova vessel caused a spill in 2004. While original estimates said about 40,000 litres had been dumped into the ocean, it’s possible as much as 170,000 litres was actually spilled.
In that case, bad weather kept containment crews at bay, as well.
“Clearly, we are not learning from past mistakes,” Fitzgerald said. “This same operation had a near-miss with an iceberg last spring. One would have thought there would be extra vigilance, given this recent history. Instead, oil transfer from the rig was attempted one day after record-breaking waves shook the coast of Newfoundland.”
On Thursday, the “most intense storm” on the planet was whipping up wind and causing huge waves. Seismic records show the storm was so fierce, the island itself was shaking as wind and waves pounded the shore.
Guttormson said Husky shut down production from the White Rose field during the storm and was preparing to resume production Friday “when the SeaRose FPSO lost pressure in a flowline.”
The SeaRose had also shut down production due to storm conditions — and it remains shut down, she said.
“Canada has a robust regulatory system for all offshore oil and gas activities that prioritizes safety, protection of the environment, and responsible management of our petroleum resources,” Sohi’s press secretary said.
Fitzgerald isn’t convinced.
“Our leaders are claiming this is world-class regulation. I think this spill shows we are far from that standard,” she said.
However, for now, safe cleanup and assessment of damage must be the top priority.
“Afterwards, our federal leaders must put our offshore regulations under the microscope,” she said. “One hundred new wells are planned for this region. We simply can’t afford to continue this way when so much is at stake.”