Shelburne Oil: Environmental Risk Understated

The Deepwater Horizon rig, owned and operated by offshore oil-drilling company Transocean and leased by oil company BP - April 20, 2010 (image courtesy of wikipedia.org)In June, 2015, Shell got the “go ahead” to start exploratory drilling for oil off the coast of Shelburne, Nova Scotia. It’s about 200 kilometers offshore. There were a number of risk assessments done including Leona Aglukkaq’s, Canada’s environment minister, and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. It’s possible that two out of the proposed seven wells proposed, may be started on this year. With a price tag close to 1 billion dollars, Shell managed to negotiate joint venture partnerships with ConocoPhillips and Suncor who will foot 50% of the costs.

An article on the CBC says, “The federal government says it may require further authorization from the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.” Mark Butler, policy director at the Ecology Action Centre said in an interview with the CBC, “the outcome cannot help but be influenced by the federal government’s agenda, which is to streamline resource development and to get more projects through environmental assessments.” Part of the streamlining is due in part to numerous research scientists and facilities that have been shut down or had their funding reduced. There is less opposition to oil and gas development.

Some concerns have arisen over the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board assessment process since it’s the same board that grants exploration licenses. They are also responsible for reporting any spill accidents. They failed to report on May 7th, 250,000 litres of contaminated water near Sable Island, a national park southeast of Halifax. The spill from an offshore gas rig operated by Encana Ltd. was reported to the House of Commons and confirmed by the fisheries department and Environment Canada. The board as late as June 25 claimed no spill occurred. Then in July they claimed it was only 2,450 litres. See the map below for what would be the affected area. Click on the image to enlarge it.

This map shows the are that would be affected by an oil spill

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency released a draft assessment that included evaluation on :

  • fish and fish habitat
  • marine mammal and sea turtles
  • migratory birds
  • current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by Aboriginal peoples
  • special areas
  • species at risk
  • commercial fisheries

It says, ” However, for worst-case modeling purposes, it was conservatively assumed that a blowout would continue for 30 days before being capped and contained. “The damage to the environment and ecosystem would be minimal and temporary at best. In contrast the BP oil spill of 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico was capped on July 15, 2010 (87 days later), an estimated 3.19 million barrels of oil had leaked into the Gulf.” With the amount of investment and subsidies the government pays to oil and gas companies, it isn’t much wonder that their “worse case” scenario isn’t based on any facts. The CBS published a report four years afterwards titled, ‘4 years after BP spill, environmental impacts persist’ and it says:

These findings serve as supporting evidence for a recent NWF study. It found that 14 species, including blue fin tuna, bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales, white pelicans, red snapper, Eastern oysters and sea turtles, are suffering from the fallout of the spill.

The article concludes with, “No matter how much money is exchanged and what efforts are done, there remains no guarantee that the Gulf Coast regions will fully recover to pre-spill conditions.”

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency said the affects would be temporary and reversible, but they haven’t defined their lateral definition of these words.

John Davis, a founder of the No Rigs Coalition says if there is an oil spill, Shell would use a chemical called Corexit 9500A which was used to disperse the oil at the Deepwater Horizon in 2010. He said when it was mixed with crude oil it was 52 times more toxic than oil alone. The Shelburne County Coast Guard Newspaper published his Open letter to the South Shore on oil exploration and extraction where he details the environmental impact a spill could have on the coast of nova Scotia. In it he says:

The Labrador Current streams from the North East at the Grand Banks to the South West directly down the edge of the Scotian Shelf. Shells “Exploratory Drilling Project Area” sits within that massive current which then sweeps directly over Georges Bank and into the Gulf of Maine. If the flow of the Current is exacerbated by any of the many North Easterly storms we experience over the winter months then Georges Bank could face a devastating oiling event in a very short timeframe.

Georges Bank has the most productive fishery in the world.

The price of oil could change the drilling plans. Shell, Suncor and Centrica are all slashing thousands of jobs and issuing layoffs. There have been a number of renewable energy project already approved by Nova Scotia Environment as detailed here under completed reviews. Shell sees the changes coming and are involved in wind projects in Europe and North America. Their focus is on North America, where eight of the 11 wind operations they are involved in are located. Suncor has partnered with NextEra Energy Canada to establish the Cedar Point Wind Power Project. It’s only a matter of time before fossil fuel becomes less important than it is today.

  • Under its Well Containment Plan, Shell says it can have a primary capping stack in place within 12 to 21 days after a blowout.