N.L. regulator confident in safety measures for deep drilling

Rob Antle
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Board reviewing Gulf incident for possible lessons that can be learned

Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore regulator is issuing reassurances that deepwater drilling here is safe, pointing to a list of oversight measures and suggesting improper procedures contributed to the ongoing Gulf of Mexico tragedy.

"We believe the things that were done in the Gulf of Mexico were not in compliance with the existing regulations, and ... probably not even in compliance with good oilfield practice," Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) chairman and CEO Max Ruelokke told reporters.

Max Ruelokke

Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore regulator is issuing reassurances that deepwater drilling here is safe, pointing to a list of oversight measures and suggesting improper procedures contributed to the ongoing Gulf of Mexico tragedy.

"We believe the things that were done in the Gulf of Mexico were not in compliance with the existing regulations, and ... probably not even in compliance with good oilfield practice," Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) chairman and CEO Max Ruelokke told reporters.

"Our policies, procedures, training and equipment are such that it will not happen."

Ruelokke cautioned information he has heard about the cause of the Gulf of Mexico disaster is hearsay, based on anecdotal evidence.

But he said the operators of the Deepwater Horizon appear to have improperly replaced the primary barrier with a concrete plug that was not given the necessary time to set. The rig's blowout preventer did not work. As a result, gas got into the well bore and caused an explosion.

Operators in Newfoundland are required to maintain a two-barrier system, Ruelokke said.

And on the Stena Carron, which is currently drilling a well for Chevron in the Orphan Basin, there are three back-up ways to engage the blowout preventer and seal the well.

To increase oversight, Ruelokke said, the board will have one of its senior engineers on the Stena Carron when the same procedure to terminate the well takes place. That is expected to happen this fall.

Ruelokke said the board is reviewing its policies and procedures in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.

He bristled at suggestions that the board is only tightening oversight measures because of the Gulf disaster.

"What we do is we try to learn when things go wrong," Ruelokke said.

The CNLOPB review includes spill response capabilities and the possibility of jacking up the level of financial guarantees for which companies are liable. The current maximum is $350 million, although there is no limit if negligence is involved.

The Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico April 20, killing 11.

Between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels of oil a day continue to spew into the Gulf. All efforts to stop the flow have failed, and it could be August before relief wells are drilled.

The disaster has thrown a spotlight on deepwater drilling off Newfoundland's shores.

Chevron's Lona O-55 well is 2.6 kilometres below the ocean's surface. Efforts to stop the Gulf spill have been hampered by its depth, which is only 1.6 kilometres.

Drilling at Lona O-55 has been underway since last month. The site is located roughly 430 kilometres northeast of St. John's.

On May 20, the CNLOPB announced a series of new oversight measures for that operation.

Ruelokke visited the rig himself over the weekend.

He said "the safety culture is outstanding."

Ruelokke indicated that the board found no reason to delay Chevron from drilling the well.

The same rig, the Stena Carron, successfully completed a similar drill program in the Newfoundland region last fall.

According to the CNLOPB, 355 wells have been drilled in the province's offshore area since the 1960s.

"There's never been a blowout or loss of control here," Ruelokke noted.

About 1,100 barrels of crude have been spilled in the region since first oil was produced in 1997. A total of 1.1 billion barrels have been pumped from Newfoundland projects

That equates to spillage of one barrel for every one million barrels produced.

rantle@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Gulf of Mexico, St. John's

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  • Pierre Neary
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    Max Ruelokke needs to come back to earth. I have issues with two statements from Ruelokke,

    1) Our policies, procedures, training and equipment are such that it will not happen.

    This smacks of arrogance. Should I even get into the story of the Titanic.... ??

    2) But he said the operators of the Deepwater Horizon appear to have improperly replaced the primary barrier with a concrete plug that was not given the necessary time to set.

    In case Mr. Ruelokke isn't aware, the operator of the Deep Water Horizon, Transocean, has two rigs in our waters doing the same type of work as the one in the Gulf. These rigs operate in our waters under minimal supervision. The rigs are flagged in Panama for this reason. In case Mr. Ruelokke isn't aware, this company has a very dubious safety and environmental record even before the disaster in the Gulf.

  • Dave
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    This condescending attitude is inexcuseable. Drilling at these depths should cease immediately! How much more evidence and pollution has to happen before the politicians stop these giant companies from destoying the earth. Their will be no future should these catastropic failures be allowed to occur!

  • wouldnt ya know
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Confident??? So was BP until its rig caught fire and blew up........Confidence doesn't fix catastrophes...having the appropriate safety measures and well trained and reliable people can prevent and control unfavourable issues....

  • Pierre Neary
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    Max Ruelokke needs to come back to earth. I have issues with two statements from Ruelokke,

    1) Our policies, procedures, training and equipment are such that it will not happen.

    This smacks of arrogance. Should I even get into the story of the Titanic.... ??

    2) But he said the operators of the Deepwater Horizon appear to have improperly replaced the primary barrier with a concrete plug that was not given the necessary time to set.

    In case Mr. Ruelokke isn't aware, the operator of the Deep Water Horizon, Transocean, has two rigs in our waters doing the same type of work as the one in the Gulf. These rigs operate in our waters under minimal supervision. The rigs are flagged in Panama for this reason. In case Mr. Ruelokke isn't aware, this company has a very dubious safety and environmental record even before the disaster in the Gulf.

  • Dave
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    This condescending attitude is inexcuseable. Drilling at these depths should cease immediately! How much more evidence and pollution has to happen before the politicians stop these giant companies from destoying the earth. Their will be no future should these catastropic failures be allowed to occur!

  • wouldnt ya know
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    Confident??? So was BP until its rig caught fire and blew up........Confidence doesn't fix catastrophes...having the appropriate safety measures and well trained and reliable people can prevent and control unfavourable issues....