Severe weather caused a piece of equipment to break off a ship being used by Shell Canada to drill an exploratory oil well off the coast of Nova Scotia.

An official with Shell Canada confirmed Monday that the incident occurred on Saturday, about 225 kilometres offshore at the Cheshire well. The well is part of the company's Shelburne Basin venture exploration drilling project.

A spokesperson for Shell Canada said operations at the Cheshire well have been suspended for the time being.

In an email to CBC News, Cameron Yost said workers on the Stena IceMAX — referred to by the company as the rig — had disconnected from the well in preparation for severe weather that was approaching.

One of the safety precautions included "isolating the well using the blowout preventer (BOP) system."

"Shortly after the well had been secured and the rig moved away from the well location, high waves and heave caused the riser tensioner system to release, resulting in the riser and lower marine riser package — which connects the rig to the well during drilling — to fall to the seabed," Yost wrote.

The riser is a flexible pipe that connects the surface ship to the sea floor. The water in that area is about 2,000 metres deep.

The riser is about the same length, and is now lying on the ocean floor.

No workers were injured.

No drilling fluid released

Shell Canada said the riser had filled with sea water before the incident occurred and that no drilling fluid was lost.  

"A survey using a remotely operated vehicle was conducted and confirmed that the BOP is intact and in good condition," said Yost.

The company said it notified the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board of the incident. The board is responsible for overseeing exploratory and resource recovery operations off the coast, on behalf of the government.

A spokesperson for the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board told CBC News the company responded appropriately and notified the board in a timely fashion.

Shell Canada said it is investigating the cause of the incident and whether the material on the ocean floor will be retrieved. The company won't know the cost of the recovery or the duration of the delay until that investigation is complete, Yost said.