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They’re just not ready


What a difference a catastrophic oil rig blowout makes.

Outside the oil industry, probably very few people knew what the concept of a capping stack was, until the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
After that rig’s spill — and the failure of its blowout protector — a capping stack is what finally stopped the rig from spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and the first one was actually designed and built precisely to deal with that spill.
Now, critics are raising concerns about the fact that a federal environmental assessment would allow Shell Canada to drill in the Shelburne Basin off Nova Scotia, even though it might take as long as 21 days to get a capping stack in place over a subsea blowout.
(The proponents downplay the chances of that kind of major spill, arguing that, statistically, the probability analysis of major blowout-type spills indicate they occur once every 3,678 to 18,392 years, or at probabilities ranging between 0.00027 and 0.000055 in any given year. But probabilities are cold comfort after something happens.)
The assessment is clear that a blowout would have impacts on things like the fishery: “In the very unlikely event of a blowout, fishers could potentially be displaced or unable to use substantial portions of the areas traditionally or currently fished for all or most of a fishing season (e.g. fishery closure)” and that “it would take approximately five to 10 days for an unmitigated blowout to reach threshold concentrations at the shelf break or Georges Bank, where fishing effort is considerably more concentrated.”
Understandably, people were concerned.
Perhaps because we’re in the midst of a federal election, federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq responded to the concerns quickly, essentially passing the buck and saying that no real decision had been made, because the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board has to approve the company’s plan. She pointed out that the proponents “are legally required to include the immediate mobilization of primary and back-up capping stacks and associated equipment to the project area to stop the spill in the unlikely event of a blowout.”
But that’s only half the story. Immediate mobilization doesn’t just mean putting a capping stack in place. It means starting off by shipping the thing: they weigh between 50 and 100 tonnes, and are not easily transported.
Shell’s environmental registration points out that, “Capping stacks are located strategically throughout the world in areas where there is a high concentration of offshore oil and gas activity, such as the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and Brazil. The capping stack identified for the Shelburne project is located in Stavanger, Norway, with backup stacks located in Aberdeen, South Africa, Singapore and Brazil.”
It ain’t coming by air mail.
When it was suggested the oil company should have their own stack as close as Halifax, the response was, well, predictable.
“The proponent indicated that there is a large amount of infrastructure required to support the capping stack, including highly specialized vessels that are typically found only in areas where capping stacks are now located (areas with high levels of offshore oil and gas activity such as the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico).
The proponent stated due to the specialized requirements for the capping stack, the necessary facilities, equipment and trained personnel are not available in Atlantic Canada.
It would require substantial time (i.e. more than the term of the exploration licences) to develop such capacity locally and capital investment would be prohibitively high.”
That’s understandable, but it’s not true everywhere. The U.S. government is requiring Shell to have a capping stack on board a support vessel and available within 24 hours if the company wants to drill in waters off Alaska — the argument being that Arctic drilling is riskier.
Is it a significant expense? Sure it is.
Should oil companies have them?
Yes — especially, as I pointed out in an earlier column, in the best case, only 10 to 15 per cent of oil spilled offshore is recovered.
The truth is, oil companies should have the best tools, and should have them all the time, not three weeks after something happens.
It should be the price of doing business.
 

Outside the oil industry, probably very few people knew what the concept of a capping stack was, until the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
After that rig’s spill — and the failure of its blowout protector — a capping stack is what finally stopped the rig from spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and the first one was actually designed and built precisely to deal with that spill.
Now, critics are raising concerns about the fact that a federal environmental assessment would allow Shell Canada to drill in the Shelburne Basin off Nova Scotia, even though it might take as long as 21 days to get a capping stack in place over a subsea blowout.
(The proponents downplay the chances of that kind of major spill, arguing that, statistically, the probability analysis of major blowout-type spills indicate they occur once every 3,678 to 18,392 years, or at probabilities ranging between 0.00027 and 0.000055 in any given year. But probabilities are cold comfort after something happens.)
The assessment is clear that a blowout would have impacts on things like the fishery: “In the very unlikely event of a blowout, fishers could potentially be displaced or unable to use substantial portions of the areas traditionally or currently fished for all or most of a fishing season (e.g. fishery closure)” and that “it would take approximately five to 10 days for an unmitigated blowout to reach threshold concentrations at the shelf break or Georges Bank, where fishing effort is considerably more concentrated.”
Understandably, people were concerned.
Perhaps because we’re in the midst of a federal election, federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq responded to the concerns quickly, essentially passing the buck and saying that no real decision had been made, because the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board has to approve the company’s plan. She pointed out that the proponents “are legally required to include the immediate mobilization of primary and back-up capping stacks and associated equipment to the project area to stop the spill in the unlikely event of a blowout.”
But that’s only half the story. Immediate mobilization doesn’t just mean putting a capping stack in place. It means starting off by shipping the thing: they weigh between 50 and 100 tonnes, and are not easily transported.
Shell’s environmental registration points out that, “Capping stacks are located strategically throughout the world in areas where there is a high concentration of offshore oil and gas activity, such as the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and Brazil. The capping stack identified for the Shelburne project is located in Stavanger, Norway, with backup stacks located in Aberdeen, South Africa, Singapore and Brazil.”
It ain’t coming by air mail.
When it was suggested the oil company should have their own stack as close as Halifax, the response was, well, predictable.
“The proponent indicated that there is a large amount of infrastructure required to support the capping stack, including highly specialized vessels that are typically found only in areas where capping stacks are now located (areas with high levels of offshore oil and gas activity such as the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico).
The proponent stated due to the specialized requirements for the capping stack, the necessary facilities, equipment and trained personnel are not available in Atlantic Canada.
It would require substantial time (i.e. more than the term of the exploration licences) to develop such capacity locally and capital investment would be prohibitively high.”
That’s understandable, but it’s not true everywhere. The U.S. government is requiring Shell to have a capping stack on board a support vessel and available within 24 hours if the company wants to drill in waters off Alaska — the argument being that Arctic drilling is riskier.
Is it a significant expense? Sure it is.
Should oil companies have them?
Yes — especially, as I pointed out in an earlier column, in the best case, only 10 to 15 per cent of oil spilled offshore is recovered.
The truth is, oil companies should have the best tools, and should have them all the time, not three weeks after something happens.
It should be the price of doing business.
 

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