Nfld. & Labrador

How could SeaRose restart without regulatory approval, federal resources minister asks C-NLOPB

It was Amarjeet Sohi's first question when he spoke to the head of the offshore petroleum board, he said.

Feds awaiting recommendations from C-NLOPB investigation into oil spill

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi says his first question about an oil spill off Newfoundland was how the oil company could go ahead without regulatory approval. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

After learning of an oil spill off the coast of Newfoundland, Amarjeet Sohi's first question was how the oil rig could restart production in such large waves without oversight from the province's offshore petroleum board.

The federal natural resources minister said he put that question to the head of the offshore regulator in Newfoundland and Labrador two weeks ago, in their first conversation after the province's largest oil spill.

In the days following the spill, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) said Husky did not need to ask its permission to restart production, regardless of weather conditions.

"We need to understand what processes we can improve in order to make sure when the work resumes back after a severe and big storm ... that there has to be better communication between the offshore board as well as the companies that may be impacted," Sohi told CBC News.

Husky Energy estimates its SeaRose production vessel spilled 250,000 litres of oil into the Atlantic Ocean amid 8.4 metre waves. It was restarting production after a windstorm rocked the province and its offshore operators.

The SeaRose FPSO is operated by Husky Energy, about 300 kilometres off St. John's.

Sohi said he's awaiting a report by the province's offshore petroleum board before saying what the government will do about it, but he also said they're going to take a hard look at the procedures and protocols enforced by the offshore regulator.

"We want to make sure there's a proper way to learn from this process and if we can avoid making the mistakes, we will definitely make sure those steps are taken."

When asked if he would consider an independent regulatory board for the province's offshore industry, Sohi said he couldn't comment on it until after the investigation.

"I have full confidence in the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board to conduct this investigation and we will follow up on the recommendations."

Still no timeline for SeaRose production

The company said a faulty valve was to blame. As of Monday afternoon, production had still not restarted on the SeaRose. The province said the shutdown is costing the government $4 million each day in "deferred revenue."

All rigs operating off Newfoundland's coast shut down during the storm, and some of them suffered damage from the wind and waves.

The SeaRose was the first to attempt to resume production, and suffered the spill while restarting and shut down again.

Hibernia and Hebron, both gravity-based structures, were up and running within days of the storm, while the Terra Nova and SeaRose FPSOs remained shut down.

On Sunday, Suncor said it had begun "a slow and controlled production restart" on the Terra Nova but it remains unclear when production will resume.

With files from Chris O'Neill-Yates