Nfld. & Labrador

Husky to install new 'higher load' connector, says trapped oil could escape

Husky Energy won't say how much November's oil spill and clean-up cost it, but its first quarter reports show a significant hit.

Company still mum on total cost of province's biggest oil spill

Husky Energy says the investigation into November's oil spill is ongoing. (Photo courtesy Husky Energy)

As Husky prepares to replace the connector behind the province's largest offshore oil spill nearly eight months ago, the company is still mum on what the spill and clean up has cost.

In an update sent Friday, the company said it was planning to replace the faulty flowline connector blamed for the 250,000 litres of oil, water and gas leaked into the ocean beneath the SeaRose FPSO in the White Rose oil field off Newfoundland's coast.

The new flowline connector has a higher load capacity than the one that failed in November, but it's not necessarily a strategic decision.

"We have spares for many items in the field and as it happens, the spare weak link of the diameter size and length happens to be a larger capacity one," said Husky vice-president Trevor Pritchard in an interview with CBC's On the Go.

Trevor Pritchard says the operation is not yet complete, which means the total cost of the spill is unclear. (CBC )

Through an elaborate recovery mission, the failed connector was recovered in March and the flowline was plugged, although the company said in a statement that it has "since been displaced with seawater."

Removing the connector was the first step toward resuming full production. Its replacement has been approved by the regulator, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB).

According to Husky Energy, this connector was to blame for the oil spill in the White Rose oil field. (Husky Energy)

When it's replaced, oil trapped when plugs were installed could be released to the surface.

Pritchard said Husky will have remotely operated vehicles monitoring subsea activities, a second vessel with oil spill response equipment on site, and stick to working in daylight hours for that work. 

"If there is anything oil coming to the surface, we can deal with it quickly," Pritchard said.

Husky will not yet say how much the recovery operation or the spill has cost the company, but its first quarter reports for 2019 show production in the White Rose field is down by over 20,000 barrels a day compared to the same time last year.

"We're still concentrating on just getting this operation correct," Pritchard said. "We haven't finished the operation so it's still difficult to determine exactly what the cost of all this is."

Husky estimates it will take about two weeks to install the new connector, and hopes to begin the work this weekend.

Ice-like crystals may be at fault

The company has also submitted an interim investigation report about the spill to the C-NLOPB. The regulator is investigating the incident as well. 

The company said small, ice-like crystals called hydrates — formed when natural gas and water combine at low temperatures and high pressures — may have collected in the connector and caused it to separate.

Adding to their formation was the fact the lines hadn't been flushed in at least 20 hours, which Pritchard said is abnormal.

The rig was being battered by a storm at the time, and crews couldn't get on deck to reach the valves required to flush lines.

"We couldn't do that during the storm because everybody is held back in the accommodation," Pritchard said. "So not being able to do that meant that the flowline was left for about 20 hours, 20-plus hours."

The company said protocols have been changed to ensure they can get oil and water around the system without creating hydrates.

"Flow assurance work being carried out by a third-party contractor will help us better mitigate against this in future," reads a press release from the company.

"As well, our operating procedures have been rewritten to use more conservative operating limits during start-up conditions."

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