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Chevron warns it wouldn't be able to clean up big oil spill off East Coast

Chevron Canada warned regulators five years ago it would be unable to clean up the vast majority of any big oil spill at a rig off the coast of Newfoundland that is poised to set a record for the deepest offshore oil well drilled in Canada.

Chevron began exploratory drilling this month in the Orphan Basin, about 430 kilometres northeast of St. John's. The project is known as Lona O-55.

Ottawa -

Chevron Canada warned regulators five years ago it would be unable to clean up the vast majority of any big oil spill at a rig off the coast of Newfoundland that is poised to set a record for the deepest offshore oil well drilled in Canada.

Chevron began exploratory drilling this month in the Orphan Basin, about 430 kilometres northeast of St. John's. The project is known as Lona O-55.

At 2,600 metres below sea level, it is considerably deeper than the existing White Rose, Terra Nova and Hibernia rigs off the Newfoundland coast.

Those three rigs are the only active offshore projects in Canada.

The well at BP's Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico is about 1,500 metres deep.

The unprecedented nature of the Lona O-55 project has raised concerns among environmentalists and industry observers about how Chevron would respond were the well to blow out, as it did in the Deepwater Horizon case.

An environmental assessment commissioned by Chevron and its partners in 2005 estimated there is only a 0.0086 per cent probability of an "extremely large" oil spill of more than 150,000 barrels. The probability of a "very large" spill, defined as greater than 10,000 barrels, was pegged at 0.026 per cent.

There is considerable dispute over the size of the Gulf Coast spill, but U.S. government officials believe it is leaking at a rate of 5,000 barrels a day, meaning it is approaching 150,000 barrels. The Chevron report notes that, before the Gulf Coast disaster, there were only five extremely large spills in the history of offshore drilling.

However, the report also concedes that, were a large spill to occur on the rough seas off Newfoundland, the company would be hard pressed to clean it up, even if response teams were outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment.

"Physical recovery of spilled oil off the coast of Newfoundland will be extremely difficult and inefficient for large blowout spills," the report states." First, the generally rough sea conditions mean that containment and recovery techniques are frequently not effective. Second, the wide slicks that result from subsea blowouts mean that only a portion of the slick can be intercepted."

The Chevron report estimates that only two to 12 per cent of an offshore spill could be retrieved under "typical wind and wave conditions."

The report used statistical models to determine the possibility that a large spill would hit the shores of Newfoundland. In all 14,600 trajectories examined, the oil never reached shore.

The report notes a spill could cause "relatively few" to a "very large" number of seabird deaths. But overall, it concludes a spill "will not result in any significant residual impacts" on animals.

A Chevron spokesman said the report's assessment of the company's ability to clean up a spill remains "realistic." But he noted that the same severe weather conditions that would make it difficulte to recover a spill off Newfoundland also would aid in naturally dispersing the oil.

"First and foremost, our focus for the Orphan project is on ensuring safe and incident-free operations and protection of the environment," said spokesman Leif Sollid, adding the company is confident it has the safeguards in place to drill the well in a manner that protects the environment.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, which oversees drilling off Newfoundland, gave the project the green light in 2006 with an environmental assessment knows as a "screening report." Originally, the board was supposed to conduct a more involved assessment called a "comprehensive study," which involves public consultations. But in November 2005, the federal government relaxed the environmental-assessment rules for offshore projects, eliminating the need for a comprehensive study at the exploratory drilling stage.

Stephen Hazell, a lawyer with environmental-law organization Ecojustice, said big offshore projects such as the Lona O-55 should be subject to tougher reviews. "For important projects like offshore drilling, they should be subject to something more strict, especially given what we know now," he said.

A spokesman for the petroleum board, Sean Kelly, said it is "satisfied that the company identified the risk of a blowout in its safety plan and put plans in place to manage the risk, which includes focus on preventive measures."

Nevertheless, he said the board plans to announce "special oversight measures" for the project on Thursday. But he didn't elaborate. Last week, the Newfoundland government announced it had appointed a marine safety and environmental management expert to review the province's prevention and response plans.

Organizations: Chevron Canada, BP, Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Canada, East Coast Ottawa Gulf Coast St. John's White Rose Terra Nova Gulf of Mexico U.S.

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Recent comments

  • Donna
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    There are two types of oil companies: those that admit that they cannot contain an oil spill and those that lie.

  • samantha
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    now with this spill in the gulf having the potential to head up your way, you can just siphon all the oil you need as it hits your shores. this oil has wiped out a number of fisheries along the gulf. if and when it hits your shores, your seals will no longer be a problem, but you will have another major loss of a fishery(ies). chevron has admitted up front that they could not contain a spill thanks canadian government for allowing this project to go ahead (NOT)!!!

  • Brad
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    What's the purpose of environmental assessments? The company basically says I am going to kill the environment, and I am going to kill animals and animal habitat, but I don't know how bad the damage will be, but we'll try our best. Then the idiot Charlene Johnson says thats ok we believe you are trying your best, carry on. She'd probably say that oil floats on water so it won't hurt it, besides we have lots of water. Couldn't we just save alot of resources by approving everything industry that applies? Oh wait that is what we are doing now, and its not working so well is it?

  • Henry
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    It's easy for people to say that we shouldn't go ahead with all this oil production but do you have any suggestions of how to come up with jobs to for these displaced workers.

    It's easy to complain, but if your going to complain maybe you should also give some suggestions on how to make it better!

  • I think DW lied again
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Yup, start drilling in the middle of iceberg season, the North Atlantic is a little harsher than the warm sheltered gulf of Mexico, not to mention this Well is almost twice as deep as the GOM spill. Full speed ahead we got one environmental nightmare to clean up so we need the revenue, what's another one? At least we arenb't expropriating this one, their gonna DUMP it on us.

  • Nasty
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Danny said he would pay for all clean up if and when required. He will be out with bounty rolls and a plastic bag. He promised that nothing bad would ever happen after all. Do people not have faith in King Danny anymore?

  • Mark (not the imposter)
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    To the imposter Mark, that's what they said in the Gulf. Looks like those odds came true. Name a bigger fish to fry.

  • Corey
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    Henry from nl who said we need to come up with jobs for these people. They can do that themselves, it's not our responsibility. Furthermore, there is no requirement to have a solution before we are allowed to express concern for our environment, not our job, we pay elected officials to come up with solutions. Unless, of course, you want to pay me, then you better open up your chequebook.

  • What..?
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    If an oil company makes a mess, it should be ordered to clean it up instantly while also paying for it in full.

    Name another business/company that isn't required to clean up their own mess? Hell, you'll get a fine for littering, in some provinces, for not putting recyclables in their proper disposals. But a company can spill billions of dollars worth of oil destroying our planet and we have to pay for it (via Government)? Are you kidding me?

    Can't clean it, don't even start the possibility of making the mess. And if they do make a mess? So many %&$# fines and charges the roads should be paved with money.

  • Keith
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    @ Mark from NL: I'm sure BP gave an even lower estimate of risk, given the shallower, smoother water. Once it happens, all the stats in the world won't help. The question we should be asking is: How badly do we want to be Chevron's guinea pig?

  • Mark
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    26 one hundreds of a percent people!
    The risk is minute.
    Maybe we should invest some oil revenue in math classes so that some of our public can understand ratios and what they mean relative to risk.
    Shut it down for what is next to a zero chance of a spill?!
    Give it a rest enviro's. There are bigger and more likely fish to fry.

  • William Daniels
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    Sean Kelly and the CNLOPB need to come back to reality. They issue a drilling liscence to a compant that admits it can't contain a spill? Besides the Stenna Carron do they realize the company that operated the rig in the Gulf, Transocean, has two rigs on the Grand Banks now. Transocean's safety and environmental record is horrible at best. Dunderdale and Johnson could care less. Easy to tell who is calling the shots in NL. Big Oil.

  • newfie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    I guess Kathy Dunderdale needs to talk to Chevron, not just run on at the mouth with what Danny told her to say.

  • pass me my $25M bonus
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    Chevron says they wouldn't be able to clean up their spill off our shores should it happen. Now that they've publicly stated this fact, they are off the hook for liability and can legally pass the blame back to government for allowing them to drill. 'We told you we couldn't clean it up, but you let us do it anyways, it's all your fault.' That's right folks, Chevron has told us beforehand that they're not accountable. No one is accountable for their actions any more.

  • Anon
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    Lets see here, Gas prices are a dollar ten per liter, we pay almost 40 cents a liter taxes and the roads are still crap, and we dont have any equipment or a plan to contain such a spill. So unless the government is going to start letting us reap some of the benefits from the oil projects. Free homecare and daycare for seniors and parents would be a great start. So would cutting prescription drug prices and home oxygen.

    But in the mean time I dont trust chevron and I dont trust the government. Id rather see the old cucumber greenhouse used to grow hemp or sugarcaine to make a better fuel anyway.

  • J
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Don't confuse Accountability with Physical Impossibility. The liability exists and would be paid with dollars if it could not a 100% clean up.

    For all you folks worried about the environment:

    Either:
    Stop using products and services that require some environmental impact.

    Or:
    Put your money where your mouth is and develop a product or service that lessens the environmental impact.

    I realize you'll all choose the other option which is to do nothing and complain.

    Typical.

  • Donna
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    There are two types of oil companies: those that admit that they cannot contain an oil spill and those that lie.

  • samantha
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    now with this spill in the gulf having the potential to head up your way, you can just siphon all the oil you need as it hits your shores. this oil has wiped out a number of fisheries along the gulf. if and when it hits your shores, your seals will no longer be a problem, but you will have another major loss of a fishery(ies). chevron has admitted up front that they could not contain a spill thanks canadian government for allowing this project to go ahead (NOT)!!!

  • Brad
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    What's the purpose of environmental assessments? The company basically says I am going to kill the environment, and I am going to kill animals and animal habitat, but I don't know how bad the damage will be, but we'll try our best. Then the idiot Charlene Johnson says thats ok we believe you are trying your best, carry on. She'd probably say that oil floats on water so it won't hurt it, besides we have lots of water. Couldn't we just save alot of resources by approving everything industry that applies? Oh wait that is what we are doing now, and its not working so well is it?

  • Henry
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    It's easy for people to say that we shouldn't go ahead with all this oil production but do you have any suggestions of how to come up with jobs to for these displaced workers.

    It's easy to complain, but if your going to complain maybe you should also give some suggestions on how to make it better!

  • I think DW lied again
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Yup, start drilling in the middle of iceberg season, the North Atlantic is a little harsher than the warm sheltered gulf of Mexico, not to mention this Well is almost twice as deep as the GOM spill. Full speed ahead we got one environmental nightmare to clean up so we need the revenue, what's another one? At least we arenb't expropriating this one, their gonna DUMP it on us.

  • Nasty
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    Danny said he would pay for all clean up if and when required. He will be out with bounty rolls and a plastic bag. He promised that nothing bad would ever happen after all. Do people not have faith in King Danny anymore?

  • Mark (not the imposter)
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    To the imposter Mark, that's what they said in the Gulf. Looks like those odds came true. Name a bigger fish to fry.

  • Corey
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    Henry from nl who said we need to come up with jobs for these people. They can do that themselves, it's not our responsibility. Furthermore, there is no requirement to have a solution before we are allowed to express concern for our environment, not our job, we pay elected officials to come up with solutions. Unless, of course, you want to pay me, then you better open up your chequebook.

  • What..?
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    If an oil company makes a mess, it should be ordered to clean it up instantly while also paying for it in full.

    Name another business/company that isn't required to clean up their own mess? Hell, you'll get a fine for littering, in some provinces, for not putting recyclables in their proper disposals. But a company can spill billions of dollars worth of oil destroying our planet and we have to pay for it (via Government)? Are you kidding me?

    Can't clean it, don't even start the possibility of making the mess. And if they do make a mess? So many %&$# fines and charges the roads should be paved with money.

  • Keith
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    @ Mark from NL: I'm sure BP gave an even lower estimate of risk, given the shallower, smoother water. Once it happens, all the stats in the world won't help. The question we should be asking is: How badly do we want to be Chevron's guinea pig?

  • Mark
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    26 one hundreds of a percent people!
    The risk is minute.
    Maybe we should invest some oil revenue in math classes so that some of our public can understand ratios and what they mean relative to risk.
    Shut it down for what is next to a zero chance of a spill?!
    Give it a rest enviro's. There are bigger and more likely fish to fry.

  • William Daniels
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    Sean Kelly and the CNLOPB need to come back to reality. They issue a drilling liscence to a compant that admits it can't contain a spill? Besides the Stenna Carron do they realize the company that operated the rig in the Gulf, Transocean, has two rigs on the Grand Banks now. Transocean's safety and environmental record is horrible at best. Dunderdale and Johnson could care less. Easy to tell who is calling the shots in NL. Big Oil.

  • newfie
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    I guess Kathy Dunderdale needs to talk to Chevron, not just run on at the mouth with what Danny told her to say.

  • pass me my $25M bonus
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    Chevron says they wouldn't be able to clean up their spill off our shores should it happen. Now that they've publicly stated this fact, they are off the hook for liability and can legally pass the blame back to government for allowing them to drill. 'We told you we couldn't clean it up, but you let us do it anyways, it's all your fault.' That's right folks, Chevron has told us beforehand that they're not accountable. No one is accountable for their actions any more.

  • Anon
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    Lets see here, Gas prices are a dollar ten per liter, we pay almost 40 cents a liter taxes and the roads are still crap, and we dont have any equipment or a plan to contain such a spill. So unless the government is going to start letting us reap some of the benefits from the oil projects. Free homecare and daycare for seniors and parents would be a great start. So would cutting prescription drug prices and home oxygen.

    But in the mean time I dont trust chevron and I dont trust the government. Id rather see the old cucumber greenhouse used to grow hemp or sugarcaine to make a better fuel anyway.

  • J
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    Don't confuse Accountability with Physical Impossibility. The liability exists and would be paid with dollars if it could not a 100% clean up.

    For all you folks worried about the environment:

    Either:
    Stop using products and services that require some environmental impact.

    Or:
    Put your money where your mouth is and develop a product or service that lessens the environmental impact.

    I realize you'll all choose the other option which is to do nothing and complain.

    Typical.