Tougher rules for Chevron well

Moira Baird
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CNLOPB will closely scrutinize deepwater drilling in Orphan Basin

The board that regulates the province's offshore oil industry beefed up rules for deepwater drilling in the Orphan Basin off Newfoundland Thursday.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) said it will keep a closer eye on drilling by Chevron Canada because of "heightened public concern" over offshore drilling.

The Stena Carron

The board that regulates the province's offshore oil industry beefed up rules for deepwater drilling in the Orphan Basin off Newfoundland Thursday.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) said it will keep a closer eye on drilling by Chevron Canada because of "heightened public concern" over offshore drilling.

The board has created a special committee to oversee Chevron's drilling operations, equipment testing and oil-spill readiness in the deepwater basin. (See box, page D1, for details.)

"The level of oversight has increased because we have a committee now that's going to be monitoring them on an almost daily basis," CNLOPB spokesman Sean Kelly said.

"It's an additional level of oversight that we never had before."

For almost two weeks, Chevron has been drilling the deepest offshore well - dubbed Lona O-55 - in Canada.

Located 427 kilometres northeast of St. John's, the well sits in a water depth of 2,600 metres.

Mark MacLeod, Atlantic Canada manager for Chevron, said drilling operations at Lona O-55 are going "very well" so far.

The new rules mean weekly meetings with CNLOPB officials, more visits to the drill ship Stena Carron by the regulator and pauses in drilling while the board assesses the operations and procedures.

"There is additional oversight, but we're certainly more than happy to co-operate fully," MacLeod said. "We're not resisting in any way.

"The focus of everyone continues to be on making sure we're safe and making sure the operations are incident-free and that we will protect the environment."

Next week, Chevron and the CNLOPB will meet to discuss how the new rules will work.

In the weeks following last month's explosion of the drill rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, Kelly said, the CNLOPB has been informally reviewing its own practises.

"We're doing this because it's prudent practice for any regulator ... to conduct a review after an incident like this to ask the question: could it happen here?"

"So that's the process that we went through. We asked ourselves could we do more and decided that we could."

The April 20 blowout killed 11 offshore workers in the U.S. The ruptured well is also spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, though British Petroleum (BP) slowed the flow last weekend.

Kelly said the exact cause of the Deepwater Horizon blowout has yet to be determined.

"We don't have anything conclusive that tells us what happened.

"But it could be in any one of several areas or a combination of equipment failures, failure to follow procedures or failure to have the appropriate training.

"So, in our oversight, we're addressing each of those areas."

One key area is the failure of the rig's blowout preventer.

A blowout preventer is a wellhead valve designed to prevent potentially explosive surges of oil and gas during drilling. It effectively shuts down the well.

That didn't happen in the case of the Deepwater Horizon.

Before drilling began in the Orphan Basin, Chevron hired a third-party consultant to review the maintenance and reliability of the Stena Carron's blowout preventer system.

The CNLOPB has also directed Chevron to monitor the Deepwater Horizon incident and tell the board what lessons can be applied to its Orphan Basin drilling operations.

Chevron's U.S. parent company is involved in efforts to stem the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

"We have people involved with BP's efforts ... in particular related to the subsea BOP intervention, subsea construction, and our folks have been instructed to provide whatever information, support or advice that BP requests," MacLeod said.

"We are on the scene and any learnings that can be shared we will be sharing with our team here in Newfoundland."

MacLeod said it would be inappropriate to speculate on what went wrong in the Gulf of Mexico.

MacLeod expects it will take about three months to drill the Lona O-55 well.

"We don't anticipate it will take more time to drill the well."

MacLeod said Chevron has no plans to test the well - meaning it will not flow oil from it, if any is found.

"We have no plans to test this well and no plans to keep it."

He said it will be plugged and abandoned once drilling wraps up.

"It's an additional level of oversight that we never had before."

For almost two weeks, Chevron has been drilling the deepest offshore well - dubbed Lona O-55 - in Canada.

Located 427 kilometres northeast of St. John's, the well sits in a water depth of 2,600 metres.

Mark MacLeod, Atlantic Canada manager for Chevron, said drilling operations at Lona O-55 are going "very well" so far.

The new rules mean weekly meetings with CNLOPB officials, more visits to the drill ship Stena Carron by the regulator and pauses in drilling while the board assesses the operations and procedures.

"There is additional oversight, but we're certainly more than happy to co-operate fully," MacLeod said. "We're not resisting in any way.

"The focus of everyone continues to be on making sure we're safe and making sure the operations are incident-free and that we will protect the environment."

New rules to be discussed

Next week, Chevron and the CNLOPB will meet to discuss how the new rules will work.

In the weeks following last month's explosion of the drill rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, Kelly said, the CNLOPB has been informally reviewing its own practises.

"We're doing this because it's prudent practice for any regulator ... to conduct a review after an incident like this to ask the question: could it happen here?

"So that's the process that we went through. We asked ourselves could we do more and decided that we could."

The April 20 blowout killed 11 offshore workers in the U.S. The ruptured well is also spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, though British Petroleum (BP) slowed the flow last weekend.

Kelly said the exact cause of the Deepwater Horizon blowout has yet to be determined.

"We don't have anything conclusive that tells us what happened.

"But it could be in any one of several areas or a combination of equipment failures, failure to follow procedures or failure to have the appropriate training.

Addressing key areas

"So, in our oversight, we're addressing each of those areas."

One key area is the failure of the rig's blowout preventer.

A blowout preventer is a wellhead valve designed to prevent potentially explosive surges of oil and gas during drilling. It effectively shuts down the well.

That didn't happen in the case of the Deepwater Horizon.

Before drilling began in the Orphan Basin, Chevron hired a third-party consultant to review the maintenance and reliability of the Stena Carron's blowout preventer system.

The CNLOPB has also directed Chevron to monitor the Deepwater Horizon incident and tell the board what lessons can be applied to its Orphan Basin drilling operations.

Parent company helping in Gulf

Chevron's U.S. parent company is involved in efforts to stem the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

"We have people involved with BP's efforts ... in particular related to the subsea BOP intervention, subsea construction, and our folks have been instructed to provide whatever information, support or advice that BP requests," MacLeod said.

"We are on the scene and any learnings that can be shared we will be sharing with our team here in Newfoundland."

MacLeod said it would be inappropriate to speculate on what went wrong in the Gulf of Mexico.

Three months drill time

MacLeod expects it will take about three months to drill the Lona O-55 well.

"We don't anticipate it will take more time to drill the well."

MacLeod said Chevron has no plans to test the well - meaning it will not flow oil from it, if any is found.

"We have no plans to test this well and no plans to keep it."

He said it will be plugged and abandoned once drilling wraps up.

mbaird@thetelegram.com


EXTRA DRILLING RULES


The new oversight steps for the Orphan Basin drilling project the include:

Creation of a special oversight committee within the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) to oversee drilling operations in the Orphan Basin.

Chevron must provide the board with field reports on its testing of the blowout preventer (BOP) and test results of the three ways to activate the BOP (acoustic signal, underwater robot, and automatic shutdown if something goes wrong).

More frequent audits and inspections aboard the drill ship - from every three to four months to every three to four weeks.

A time-out prior to drilling specific targets within the well to review and verify that all appropriate equipment, systems and procedures are in place to operate safely.

Before drilling specific targets in the well, Chevron must ensure it has the personnel and equipment on hand to rapidly respond to a spill.

A CNLOPB observer be on hand to observe cementing operations when the drill pipe is placed before drilling reaches target zones.

A CNLOPB observer must be present for the blowout preventer testing, well control drills and results of the pressure test of the cementing job. An international certifying authority, Det Norske Veritas, will also be on hand for BOP testing.

Organizations: Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, British Petroleum, Chevron Canada Det Norske Veritas

Geographic location: Gulf of Mexico, Newfoundland, Atlantic Canada U.S. St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Bones
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Taxpayer: Read it again. The 'how' is definitely there. What did you expect it to say? That there would now have to be twelve backups for each of the twelve backups that are backing up the twelve backups on the twelve backup systems? lol. Those systems are proven, working, fail-safe devices and have been for decades. Frequent inspections and making sure every redundant system is operating properly should surely account for something, shouldn't it? Don't monthly inspections vs. quarterly inspections sound much more thorough to you?

  • Eugene
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    What is the real purpose of this exercise if:

    MacLeod said Chevron has no plans to test the well - meaning it will not flow oil from it, if any is found.

    We have no plans to test this well and no plans to keep it.

    He said it will be plugged and abandoned once drilling wraps up.

  • sandra
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    as they say man will destroy himself

  • Taxpayer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    One simple question. How are these rules any tougher?

  • Bones
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    Taxpayer: Read it again. The 'how' is definitely there. What did you expect it to say? That there would now have to be twelve backups for each of the twelve backups that are backing up the twelve backups on the twelve backup systems? lol. Those systems are proven, working, fail-safe devices and have been for decades. Frequent inspections and making sure every redundant system is operating properly should surely account for something, shouldn't it? Don't monthly inspections vs. quarterly inspections sound much more thorough to you?

  • Eugene
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    What is the real purpose of this exercise if:

    MacLeod said Chevron has no plans to test the well - meaning it will not flow oil from it, if any is found.

    We have no plans to test this well and no plans to keep it.

    He said it will be plugged and abandoned once drilling wraps up.

  • sandra
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    as they say man will destroy himself

  • Taxpayer
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    One simple question. How are these rules any tougher?