Nfld. & Labrador

Mission underway to retrieve faulty connector blamed for province's largest oil spill

Husky hopes to figure out why the connector failed and sent 250,000 litres of oil, water and gas gushing into the ocean in November.

The recovery operation comes with the risk of another spill

A delicate recovery operation is underway in the White Rose oil field. (Husky Energy)

A delicate recovery operation is now underway in the White Rose oil field, about 120 metres under the sea — and it could shed more light on what was behind the biggest oil spill in the province's history last November.

Around 7 a.m. NT Friday, Husky Energy sent a pair of remotely operated vehicles down into the sea to pick up the faulty connector it says was behind the spill.

The ROVs will unhook the failed connector, plug the flowline it's attached to, and bring the metre-long connector to shore, in hopes of figuring out why it failed last November, causing an estimated 250,000 litres of oil, water and gas to gush into the ocean.

"We need to understand what happened with the weak link," said Trevor Pritchard, Husky Energy's senior vice-president of the Atlantic region. "Obviously [we] need to do some forensic investigations to look at the detail of the weak link and determine the root cause as to why it might have failed."

Trevor Pritchard is Husky Energy's senior vice president in the Atlantic region. (CBC)

The failed flowline connector is five kilometres from the Sea Rose floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel and is part of a sprawling network of undersea pipes linked to the vessel.

Potential for small spill

The "substantial plan with many inputs" includes a risk of more oil spilling into the ocean, Pritchard said.

"The weak link has ports and grooves in it, so you can imagine that there's likely going ot be some volume of oil within that."

According to Husky Energy, this is the connector behind the spill. (Husky Energy)

There's likely oil left in the flowline itself, too, and that could leak out if the pipe is knocked around, according to a statement emailed by a Husky Energy spokesperson on Thursday.

The potential spill size is "tens of litres," the statement read.

Two dedicated vessels carrying crews and officials from a number of organizations including the Canadian Coast Guard are on site in case there is an emergency. An aerostat balloon and a plane will keep watch from above.

Husky Energy provided this graphic showing the red Skandi Vinland vessel, the blue Maersk Detector vessel, a fixed-wing plan and an aerostat balloon. All will be on hand for this weekend's recovery mission, the company said. The inset shows the subsea pipes. (Husky Energy)

On the surface of the water, a large boom will be ready to sop up any mess, Pritchard said.

"The main goal is to minimize any pollution and if there is any oil spilled, to clean it up rapidly."

According to a statement sent Friday afternoon by a Husky spokesperson, some oil was observed on the surface of the ocean after the day's work, which was focused on disconnecting bolts from the flowline connector. The statement says less than one litre was spilled.

A long wait for weather

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board approved the plans for the connector's recovery in January, but Husky has been waiting for a four-day stretch of good weather to carry them out.

That weather window opened up this week.

"We really kicked this up on Monday," Pritchard said.

People from as far away as Vancouver were flown in and arrived on Tuesday, he said. They set sail for the oil field on Wednesday and spent Thursday getting ready.

Pritchard hopes the mission will wrap up this weekend.

Husky Energy released this diagram depicting its plans to retrieve the faulty connector. (Husky Energy)

A step toward restoring full production

The SeaRose FPSO resumed production on Jan. 30, but just one of its five drill centres has been operational.  Last week, Finance Minister Tom Osborne confirmed the hampered production had so far cost the province $70 million in royalties. 

Pritchard says this weekend's work, if successful, will allow Husky to start isolating each of the remaining drill centres and do the necessary checks and repairs to being them back online. 

He was unable to say how long that entire process might take.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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