Nfld. & Labrador

Burning suggested for offshore oil spills

A catastrophic spill at an oil field off Newfoundland could be resolved by burning off the fuel, a report released Thursday says.

No plan in place for catastrophic spill, consultant finds

A new report has found the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil industry, which launched with the Hibernia platform seen above, is not prepared for a catastrophe. (CBC )

A catastrophic spill at an oil field off Newfoundland could be resolved by burning off the fuel, a report released Thursday says.

Mark Turner, a master mariner hired by the Newfoundland and Labrador government last year to assess the readiness of government and industry to respond to a spill, also recommended that independent organizations be used to audit oil companies.

Turner, who was appointed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, produced 25 recommendations, many to various government agencies and regulators on best practices in the wake of a spill, and to prevent a blowout. [Read the full text of the report here.]

Turner said that burning should be considered as an option for dealing with a spill.

"Although the weather and sea-state limits for the use of in situ burning are no better compared to containment and recovery, burning does offer advantages over skimming in terms of logistics and oil removal rates," wrote Turner, whose appointment itself was controversial  to environmentalists, who felt that his ties to the oil industry would compromise his perspective.

"In situ burning is proving to be a valuable technique for reducing surface oil, as evidenced during the Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico."

He added that there should be "defined standards for effectiveness and effects monitoring" in place for when it would be appropriate to conduct a burn.

Not prepared for catastrophe

Turner also found that Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore oil industry is not prepared for a major disaster.

"Contingency planning is currently in place in the event of a batch spill, but these do not encompass the spectrum of issues that will be present in the event of a catastrophic blowout," he wrote.

He called on the industry and agencies that regulate it to prepare a thorough plan to prevent a blowout, and mitigate the damage of what might happen.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster prompted the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, which regulates the offshore oil industry, to tighten the rules on Chevron Canada's deepwater test drilling last summer at a property called Lona O-55, in the Orphan Basin north of the Grand Banks.

Turner said the CNLOPB needs to improve its working practices, as well as to be more transparent in terms of how it shares information.

To do that, Turner said, the CNLOPB will need greater financial resources.

Many of Turner's recommendations fall under the jurisdiction of more than one body, reflecting the complex nature of the offshore oil industry.

Shawn Skinner, Newfoundland and Labrador's natural resources minister, said his government will "consult with the responsible stakeholders to ensure all recommendations are considered."