Chevron Canada Ltd. has begun work on the deepest oil well ever drilled in Canadian waters.
A spokesperson for the company told CBC News on Monday that the drill ship Stena Carron started sinking the well Sunday night 430 kilometres northeast of St. John's, in an area known as the Orphan Basin.
At more than 2.5 kilometres underwater, the Lona O-55 prospect will set a record for Canadian offshore drilling, according to Chevron's website.
The company is promising to be careful in the wake of the current oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. More than 750,000 litres of crude a day have been spilling into the Gulf since BP's Deepwater Horizon blowout on April 20, which killed 11 people. Efforts to stop the flow have so far failed.
Kathy Dunderdale, Newfoundland and Labrador's natural resources minister, said Monday that exploration is critical to the province's oil industry and economic future, and it would be premature to halt offshore drilling.
"We are confident … We're satisfied at this point in time that it is safe and prudent to continue with drilling in the Orphan Basin," Dunderdale told CBC News.
She said the Newfoundland and Labrador government has closely watched all available documentation from the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, and is following through on Premier Danny Williams's vow last week to recruit an outside expert to review the drilling plans.
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"We've reviewed all of the safety plans. We're having an independent look at those plans and, you know, if there are other steps that we can take that will give us assurance, and give the people of the province assurance, about the activity on our offshore, then we are going to do that," Dunderdale said in an interview.
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Chevron said it doesn't have to make any changes in its program because of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, which prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to curtail plans on easing a moratorium on offshore drilling.
Three oilfields off Newfoundland's east coast are now in production, and work has begun on a fourth, named Hebron.
Chevron has two drill ships under contract that could drill Orphan Basin relief wells, which would slow the spill from a blown-out well by easing pressure.
The company expects it will take several months to drill the O-55 well.