Oil spill response plan censored

Moira Baird
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Industry regulator calls blackouts 'a mistake'

The board that regulates the province’s offshore oil industry said it was a mistake to black out sections of Chevron Canada’s oil spill response plan released to media outlets earlier this week.

A small tour boat passes in front of the drill rig Glomar Grand Banks and a tow ship. The rig was about to be towed out of Bay Bulls to be deployed on the White Rose oil fields.

That was redacted from the information released to Postmedia News and CBC-News.

“We realized last night (Wednesday), when the senior management folks first got a chance to look at it, that we’d been perhaps a little too cautious in terms of what we could release,” said Max Ruelokke, CNLOPB chairman and CEO.

“But realizing we made a mistake, we’ll acknowledge that and move on.”

Ruelokke blamed the censorship gaffe on extra pressure and scrutiny since an April 20 BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and unleashed the worst oil spill disaster in U.S. history.

“I think it’s fair to say we’re spread pretty thin in terms of management resources — and continue to be with respect to what’s happened in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.

“This places incredible demands on us, and of course, our daily responsibilities are all about making sure the six facilities we have in our offshore area are operated safely and with due care to the environment.”

Ruelokke said staff were given advice that the trajectory models showing where an Orphan Basin oil spill could drift was third-party information that couldn’t be released.

“We felt that was not necessarily the case.

“It was some work done and paid for by consultants for Chevron, therefore, it was part of the public documents so we decided to reverse the previous decision.”

Provincial NDP Leader Lorraine Michael has repeatedly called for a halt to the drilling until more is learned about the Gulf incident.

She wonders whether the board’s about-face on oil spill response plans would have happened without public pressure.

“It definitely is in the public’s right to know. What shocks me is that they thought at some point that it wasn’t,” she said.

“Certainly our provincial government is known to be redacting quite a bit of material when (it’s) requested.

“So it’s a culture that’s out there in the bureaucracies and it may be in some corporations more than others, but it definitely is a mindset.”

John Downton, a spokesman for Terra Nova oilfield operator Suncor Energy, said the company never objected to the release of the details that were censored.

“I think we do endeavour to be transparent and we’ve always been clear that we have detailed, comprehensive plans.

“We follow them and they’re kept up to date.

“This may be another level of transparency and we’re fine with that.”

In future, the CNLOPB said it will only redact information considered “personal, proprietary or security sensitive.”

Ruelokke said names and personal contact information will continue to be blacked out.

As well, he said sensitive information, such as the building

layout of an emergency response centre or the deck plans of ships cleaning up an oil spill, will

be blacked out for security reasons.

“They’re all limited-access facilities.”

Environmental obstacle

One of the several warnings contained in the spill response plans for the Lona 0-55 project and the three active production rigs — Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose — is the threat pack ice poses in Chevron’s exploration licence territory.

The ice, pushing south from the Arctic, is expected to be an issue for only as long as 12 weeks in the spring, and could actually make it easier to contain a spill. But Chevron also warns the ice shelf could hamper the drilling of a relief well, widely viewed as the best way to permanently shut a leaking well.

“The main effect of the presence (of) pack ice would be to hinder the drilling of relief wells and/or cleanup efforts,” the company says.

The region is also susceptible to ocean cyclones known as “bombs” that exhibit characteristics similar to tropical storms, including hurricane-force winds.

“The feature that distinguishes the Orphan Basin from other deepwater exploration and production areas is the combined occurrence of both storms and ice encroachment. Both elements can be limiting factors in an oil spill response.”

Copies of the operator oil spill response plans can be reques-

ted by e-mailing information-@cnlopb.nl.ca.

A request submitted Thursday by The Telegram received the following response: “We are reviewing your request and will be in touch within 48 hours.”


With files from The Canadian Press and Postmedia News

Organizations: Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, Hibernia, Postmedia News CBC-News BP Suncor Energy

Geographic location: Terra Nova, White Rose, Canada Gulf of Mexico Newfoundland and Labrador U.S. Arctic

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Recent comments

  • will
    July 27, 2010 - 09:11

    and the answer is they can only clean up maybe and that is a big maybe 10 to 12 percent of the oil that could spill in the north atlantic that is already known by big oil companies and also your own goverment

  • Nasty Nate
    July 23, 2010 - 16:19

    If it is not an open policy then someone is trying to cover up something. The CNLOPB has some questions to answer right now before we can trust anything that comes out of that office.

  • Anon
    July 23, 2010 - 12:45

    Why trust a company to clean up an oil spill when they are only going to be concerned with the cheapest way to do it. Let the military handle national defense issues such as oil spills (yeah that is a national defense issue) and let them blow the hole up and back fill it like the Russians did and like Bill Clinton urged the US government to do in the gulf. Oil Companies CAN NOT be trusted.

  • Big Al Watcher
    July 23, 2010 - 09:32

    I'm more surprised by CNLOPB's reversal than it's original response. The Board has left a distinct impression over the years, and most recently during the Cougar Helicopter Inquiry, as being non-accountable, beholding to the oil industry and whishy/washy in respect to enforcement of safety and environmental concerns. It's legal and communications representatives have offered the standard responses to questions about accountability like, um, da, don't recall, could you repeat the question; not our responsibility, we leave that to the operators; etc. And, it's current flip flop speaks to it's historical culture of protective cover-up and being a puppet to big oil rather than an independant regulator. The Board's latest action makes Minister Dunderdale look somewhat credible in comparision. Or, could it be that industry felt the public pressure and lifted the embargo on this crutial information in an effort to divest itself of the culture of deceit?