BP Canada restarts drilling off Nova Scotia after spill

BP Canada was given the go-ahead to restart drilling at its offshore exploratory well, a month after a loose connection spilled thousands of litres of drilling lubricant in the ocean off the coast of Nova Scotia.

Offshore petroleum board's investigation into compliance and environmental impact continues

About 136,000 litres of drilling mud spilled from BP Canada's West Aquarius rig on June 22, offshore of Nova Scotia. (Submitted by Gus Byrne)

BP Canada has been given the go-ahead to restart drilling at its offshore exploratory well, a month after a loose connection spilled thousands of litres of drilling mud in the ocean off the coast of Nova Scotia.

The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board said in a press release Monday it allowed to company to resume drilling on Sunday evening.

The exploratory well has been criticized by some environment groups who argue the failure that led to the release of the synthetic drill lubricant indicates the risks of allowing the project are too high.

The regulator said the spill of 136,000 litres of drilling mud on June 22 was caused by a loose connection in the mud booster line on board the West Aquarius rig, which is drilling about 330 kilometres southeast of Halifax.

The regulator said BP Canada is improving its inspection procedures, installing a pressure alarm system and replacing a section of mud booster line to try to prevent another a failure in the future.

"We are satisfied that the responsive actions taken, including the additional monitoring and testing that will be done for the remainder of the project, allows for drilling operations to resume safely," said board CEO Stuart Pinks.

Investigation continues

The regulator is allowing drilling to resume before the investigation is complete. It is still reviewing the extent of any potential "regulatory non-compliances" and determining if there will be any enforcement action.

It said it was not commenting further on the investigation at this point, but will release a public report on the investigation once it is complete.

BP Canada said no one was available for an interview on Monday. In a news release, the company confirmed it had resumed drilling.

The regulator is also investigating the environmental effects of the spill, but said its preliminary findings suggest it will likely be minimal because of the low-toxicity of the drilling mud and the sparse marine life on the seafloor near the well.

The offshore petroleum board said the synthetic drilling mud is specifically designed for the marine environment and some mud on drill cuttings is routinely discharged to the seabed.

But Angela Giles, the Atlantic regional organizer for the Council of Canadians, said that doesn't placate her and raises more concerns. She said there will be implications for the marine environment any time a human-made substance goes into the ocean.

"We're certainly disappointed that this opportunity wasn't taken to revisit the approval overall, since it is clear that this company and the industry is too risky and until an accident occurs they're not actually willing to take all the steps necessary to be as safe as possible," said Giles.

Blow out would be 'catastrophic'

The Council of Canadians has joined other environmental and fishing groups to form the Offshore Alliance, which is calling for a moratorium on offshore drilling and a public inquiry into marine oil exploration.

Giles questioned why BP Canada was permitted to resume drilling before the investigation was complete.

The spill points to a bigger problem, said Mark Butler, the Ecology Action Centre's policy director.

"It shows that there's potential for a major accident, which would be of course what we saw in the Gulf of Mexico with a major blow out. And we really worry that there is a risk of this happening and these accidents indicate that accidents can happen," said Butler.

"If we ever got a blow out out there the impact on marine life, on fisheries, on tourism would be severe and catastrophic."

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia