N.L. offshore regulator considers subsea spill projections amid criticism

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The federal-provincial agency that regulates oil activity off Newfoundland is mulling changes to required oil spill plans as newly released documents raise safety questions.The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board has released about 1,200 pages of oil spill response documents. They include plans for Chevron Canada as it drills the country's deepest exploration well in 2,600 metres of water, about 425 kilometres northeast of St. John's.

Critics have raised concerns that Chevron only projected how an oil slick originating on the surface would spread.

There were no such models done for a deepsea blowout such as the April 20 explosion on a BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and spewed up to 700 million litres of crude into the sea.

Chevron Canada spokesman Leif Sollid said subsea projections weren't done for the Lona O-55 well in the Orphan Basin because they weren't required.

"The board sets the rules. We follow them," he said Monday from Calgary. "So if the board in future wants different types of modelling done then we certainly will comply. It's as simple as that."

That could be the case, said board spokesman Sean Kelly. Chevron's oil spill response is dated February 2010, two months before the Gulf disaster and three months before the well was spudded.

Related documents for operators of Newfoundland's three active offshore sites - ExxonMobil, Husky Energy nd Suncor Energy - are dated months or years before the Gulf blowout.

When each operator's oil spill plan is reviewed to renew their offshore authorization, "we may in the future choose to ask for subsea spill trajectory models," Kelly said in an email.

But for now, it's business as usual.

"The (board) is satisfied that the oil spill response plans were prepared in accordance with our guidelines and we have not received any information that would cause us to require revised plans at this time."

Organizations: BP, Husky Energy, Suncor Energy

Geographic location: Gulf of Mexico, Canada, Calgary Newfoundland

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