New Arctic offshore drilling rules require full disclosure

The National Energy Board says applicants looking to drill offshore in the Canadian Arctic will be required to make public their safety, contingency, emergency response and environmental protection plans as part of new application rules.
This photo released by Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation shows a simulated oil spill cleanup exercise in broken ice in the Beaufort sea, off of Alaska, in 2000. Environmental groups and Alaska Natives protested the sale, claiming the oil industry has not proved that a major oil spill can be cleaned up in broken ice. (Kirsten Ballard/Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation/AP)

The National Energy Board says applicants looking to drill offshore in the Canadian Arctic will be required to make public their safety, contingency, emergency response and environmental protection plans, part of new rules released Thursday.

The NEB's new filing process follows a review of its requirements for Arctic offshore drilling that was begun in 2010, following the massive BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Filing requirements set out the technical information we will need to see in future applications for offshore drilling in the Canadian Arctic," said NEB chair and CEO Gaétan Caron in a press release.

"These new requirements provide clarity to future applicants and to those who will provide input into the board’s decision to approve or deny an application for a well in the Arctic."

The board's 53-page report sets out the recommendations for offshore drilling, including responses to oil spills.

Depending on how industry reacts to the report, it could signal a boom or a bust for communities near the Beaufort Sea.

"You've got  a couple of billion dollars [of] potential work lined up to go in the Beaufort," said Doug Matthews, a petroleum industry analyst.

"That's a pretty strong committment on the part of the companies. If the conditions that the board proposes are considered by industry to be too onerous, proposed activity might just not happen. And that wouldn't be good for the region."

The board has given industry one of the things it was hoping to see — a slight change in its policy on relief wells, which divert oil from the main well, stopping the flow of oil into offshore waters.

The NEB said any company wishing to depart from its Same Season Relief Well Policy in a future application for a well would have to demonstrate how they would meet or exceed the intended outcome of the policy, which is to kill an out-of-control well in the same season in order to minimise impacts on the environment.

Currently, there is no offshore drilling in Canada’s Arctic waters and there are no applications for drilling before the board.

The board says while a number of companies hold exploration licences in the Beaufort Sea, they would need to respond to the newly released filing requirements in their applications.

The NEB is an independent federal agency established in 1959 to regulate international and interprovincial aspects of the oil, gas and electric utility industries.