Faulty valve blamed for massive oil spill off Newfoundland

It still isn't clear exactly why a flowline to the SeaRose platform spilled an estimated 250,000 litres of oil into the Atlantic Ocean on Friday.

No clear reason why a flowline spilled about 250,000 litres of oil

Husky Energy's Trevor Pritchard says it's still a mystery why a valve failed and spilled oil into the ocean. (Chris O'Neill-Yates/CBC)

A Husky Energy executive says it isn't clear exactly why a valve failed causing a flowline to the SeaRose FPSO to spill an estimated 250,000 litres of oil into the Atlantic Ocean on Friday.

Trevor Pritchard, Husky's senior vice president for the Atlantic region, said the leadership on board the SeaRose made the decision that rough seas and stormy conditions had subsided enough to resume production on Friday and began procedures to startup again.

It was during a process of moving warm oil from the SeaRose through the lines, he said, when the valve failed and the oil spilled.

"I can't tell you too much as to the reason why it failed," said Pritchard.

"We're going to have to investigate as to why, at such a low pressure, this particular device, the flowline connector to the manifold, came apart as it did."

He said oil was flowing well below the line's maximum pressure, and that Husky plans to bring up the broken connector from the ocean's floor for further investigation.

Pritchard said the spill was a "batch spill," and the pumping of oil was halted soon after the spill was found.

Culture change

This isn't the first time Husky Energy has found itself in hot water. The SeaRose had a close call with an iceberg in March 2017.

Pritchard said the company did the right thing in the case of this spill, however.

"If I reflect back on the incident with the iceberg, we should have and could have done better with that incident. We did not follow the procedures, we should have disconnected the FPSO when the iceberg was as close as that," he said.

"In this case, as far as our investigation's gone so far, all of the procedures have been followed … I appreciate this is a terrible spill, and I don't [want to] have this again."

Pritchard was brought in after the iceberg incident and believes there has been a culture change that will prevent serious incidents in the future.

Hebron resumes production

The Hebron oil platform is once again producing oil, however, according to the C-NLOPB, a​fter stormy seas and reports of smoke shut it down for nearly five days.

In a tweet sent Monday afternoon, the province's offshore regulator said it felt ExxonMobil, the majority partner behind the $14-billion facility, had done the required checks to ensure a restart wouldn't be affected by the bad weather or rough seas resulting from last Thursday's major storm.

The storm prompted the shutdown of all Newfoundland and Labrador offshore facilities, and resulted in the worst offshore oil spill in the province's history, from the SeaRose FPSO in the White Rose oil field. According to a release sent by Husky Monday evening, operation at the SeaRose remains on hold.

The Hebron Platform is seen anchored in Trinity Bay, NL, in April 2017. (Paul Daly/Canadian Press)

Typically, offshore companies don't need C-NLOPB approval to resume operation, said a spokesperson from the board.

Because of the spill, which is believed to have occurred when Husky brought the SeaRose back into production Friday, all operators have been ordered to get authorization before they start producing again, the spokesperson said.

As of Tuesday morning, Hebron is the only offshore operator that has been granted permission to resume.

An official from ExxonMobil told CBC News the platform was shut down Thursday because of the bad weather. Crew members were also called to muster Thursday afternoon after reports of smoke in the platform's living quarters.

There were 200 people on board at the time, the spokesperson said.

The Hebron platform is located in the Jeanne d'Arc Basin, 350 kilometres southeast of St. John's. 

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