BP granted approval to start drilling off Nova Scotia's coast

On Saturday, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) gave the green light to the company to begin drilling one deepwater exploration well about 300 kilometres off the coast.

Project has been strongly opposed by Mi'kmaq communities

The approval announced Saturday is for BP's Aspy D-11 exploration well. (Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency)

BP Canada has been given the green light to start drilling off Nova Scotia's coast.

On Saturday, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) granted approval for the company to begin drilling one deepwater exploration well about 300 kilometres offshore.

It's the first in BP Canada's Scotian Basin Exploration Project, which Mi'kmaq communities have opposed saying it poses a serious risk to food, social and ceremonial fishing areas.

The approval announced Saturday is for BP's Aspy D-11 exploration well.

Anita Perry, BP Canada's regional manager for Nova Scotia, described the application process as lengthy and rigorous.

"We're confident we addressed all issues and risks for a safe drilling program," she said.

Drilling to start 'soon'

Perry did not say when exactly drilling will commence, but confirmed "it'll be soon."

A spokesperson for CNSOB said the board will continue to keep an eye on the operations.

"We have granted the authorization today to commence the drilling operations, but really our work is just beginning," said Stacy O'Rourke. "Part of that authorization is ... doing monitoring and compliance throughout the duration of their project."

BP submitted a proposal to the board in September 2017. Environmental assessments were done for up to seven exploration wells, said O'Rourke, although they still require other levels of approval.

Concerns have been raised about the project that it poses a serious risk to food, social and ceremonial fishing areas. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

In February of this year, the federal government released a decision saying the project wasn't likely to have a significant environmental impact.

Then on April 7, CNSOPB authorized BP to carry out "preparatory activities," allowing the company to enter Nova Scotia waters. Mi'kmaq activists and fishers gathered at BP's Halifax office to voice their opposition to that authorization.

The Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office told CBC News at the time that before drilling takes place, further government approvals and consultation are needed.

People opposing BP Canada's Scotia Basin Exploration Drilling Project held an 'unwelcoming party' outside the company's Halifax office earlier this month. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Angela Giles, Atlantic regional organizer for the Council of Canadians, said she's "disappointed, but not surprised" that BP Canada was given the go-ahead to proceed with the drilling project.

She said the biggest concern for her organization is the risk of a spill.

"While these catastrophic incidents are not common, they're possible, and no amount of regulations can completely protect us from that happening," she said, adding that U.S. coastal communities and ecosystems are still suffering the effects from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers.

​Premier supports project

Speaking from the Liberal Party of Canada convention in Halifax on Saturday, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil threw his support behind the planned exploration.

He said he's hopeful that the potential discovery of natural resources will help boost the province's economy, but the fickle nature of oil and gas prices could pose a challenge.

"That resource, if it becomes available, and the costs associated with that, will be managed in a way that actually allows us to build in the services that Nova Scotians want, but making sure that if there's a fluctuation, they're not put in jeopardy," he said.

"Yes, we'd use some of that [revenue] to put in health care, and education, and looking after vulnerable citizens. But at the same time, we would leave some set aside that we're be able to make sure that when the price changes, we'd be able to weather that storm."

McNeil said he's confident the appropriate measures will be taken to ensure safety and environmental responsibility throughout the project.

With files from Emma Smith and Nic Meloney