CBC Investigates

Husky seeks gag order on daily oil production during SeaRose suspension

CBC News made the request to gauge the impact of the penalty imposed by the offshore regulator in the wake of a 2017 close call with an iceberg.

Company files Federal Court application to block releasing information to CBC News

The SeaRose FPSO was ordered to halt operations over the handling of a 2017 near-miss with an iceberg in the Newfoundland offshore. (CBC)

Husky Energy has gone to Federal Court to stop CBC News from obtaining daily oil production reports from the SeaRose platform before, during and after the period it was ordered to halt operations over the handling of a 2017 near-miss with an iceberg in the Newfoundland offshore.

CBC News had asked for those reports through federal access-to-information laws.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, which regulates the industry, intended to provide information in response to that request.

But last month, Husky went to court to stop that from happening.

In its application to Federal Court, the company says those records are privileged under the Atlantic Accord Act, and contain confidential financial and commercial information.

CBC News made the request to gauge the impact of the penalty imposed by the offshore regulator, and to confirm that oil production ceased on the SeaRose platform during the 10-day suspension period.

Husky declined interview requests. In an emailed statement, the company said it complied with the Jan. 17 suspension order and "commenced a safe and orderly shutdown of operations in a manner approved by the C-NLOPB."

Given the commercially sensitive nature of daily production operation by field and asset, the company does not disclose it.- Colleen McConnell

Husky had previously indicated the SeaRose was producing 38,000 barrels a day before the January suspension order.

"We recognize there is local interest in SeaRose daily production from Jan. 17 to Jan. 26 specifically, but given the commercially sensitive nature of daily production operation by field and asset, the company does not disclose it, and is not aware of any other Atlantic operator that does," Husky's Colleen McConnell said by email.  

The company noted that the C-NLOPB publishes offshore production information on a monthly basis.

Husky also pointed to its most recent financial filings, which indicated that crude oil production in the Atlantic region fell by about 14 per cent, due to the 10-day SeaRose suspension.

C-NLOPB to oppose application

The C-NLOPB filed court documents last week to contest Husky's application.

Officials with the board would not do a recorded interview, but provided more details on the technical aspects of the suspension order, and how it was implemented.

Chief conservation officer Jeff O'Keefe said the board approved a controlled shutdown for the SeaRose, as opposed to an emergency shutdown.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board regulates the province's offshore. (CBC)

He compared that process to stopping the momentum of a big rig truck — gearing down to come to a complete stop, instead of slamming on the brakes.

He said a more gradual, controlled shutdown is safer. And an emergency shutdown would have had a negative impact on the eventual process to resume production.

O'Keefe would not get into specifics, but said the board is satisfied with the actions taken by Husky to implement shutdown procedures.

'Public interest' info release possible

Meanwhile, the C-NLOPB is currently looking at ways — outside the access-to-information process — to make public the type of data sought by CBC News.

Recent changes to the Atlantic Accord Act added a public interest element to the law that could permit the release of information that would ordinarily be considered off-limits.

A decision is expected on that within a month, but could also be challenged in court.

Meanwhile, the final report on the 2017 iceberg incident is also expected to be completed at some point in June.

A graphic shows the scenario faced by the SeaRose crew on March 29, 2017. (CBC)

Told to 'brace for impact' 

The close call happened in the early-morning hours of March 29, 2017.

According to a C-NLOPB incident report, an iceberg came within 180 metres of the SeaRose FPSO. The berg was classified as "medium size" — 40 metres wide by 60 metres long with eight metres showing above the water.

The SeaRose FPSO should have disconnected and sailed away from the threatening iceberg.- C-NLOPB Jan. 17, 2018, press release

There were 84 people and approximately 340,000 barrels of crude onboard at the time.

Ten months later, the C-NLOPB announced the suspension of petroleum-related operations on the SeaRose.

"The SeaRose FPSO should have disconnected and sailed away from the threatening iceberg," the regulator said in announcing the suspension. "That action was not taken and personnel were at one point instructed to muster and 'brace for impact.'"

The suspension lasted 10 days, before the C-NLOPB permitted operations to resume.

At the time, the regulator said Husky "has taken appropriate action to address the deficiencies that were identified within the safety culture of their organization."

About the Author

Rob Antle

CBC News

Rob Antle is producer for CBC's investigative unit in Newfoundland and Labrador.