Suncor rig dumps mud on seabed

Moira Baird
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Monday’s drilling mud spill the third-largest on the Grand Banks

The drill rig Henry Goodrich is towed into Conception Bay in this file photo. — File photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

The rig Henry Goodrich spilled 26,400 litres of synthetic-based drilling mud on the Grand Banks seabed Monday morning.

The rig is drilling an exploration well for Suncor Energy, operator of the Terra Nova oilfield.   

Suncor said Thursday the spill occurred during the cleaning of a mud storage tank aboard the drill rig — not during drilling operations.

The cause of the spill is under investigation, but the offshore regulator said it likely started with an open valve on a mud storage tank.

“It appears that a valve may have been open from one of the mud pits, which led to the release of the synthetic-based mud,” said Sean Kelly, spokesman for the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB).

“We’re in the process of gathering information to determine what happened and make sure the causes have been addressed.”

Suncor said it’s still investigating the root cause of the spill and will report its findings to the CNLOPB.

“We take this situation very, very seriously,” said Suncor spokesman John Downton. “It occurred during a cleaning operation in the mud system. There was a transfer operation going on at the time.”

Once the spill was discovered, Downton said the cleaning operation was stopped.

During drilling operations, mud is circulated through the drill pipe to lubricate equipment.

The mud is also used to control oil and gas pressure in the well bore and help prevent well blowouts.

To assess the environmental impact of the spill, Kelly said an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) will be used to collect water and soil samples at the site.

“It’s a heavy, dense mud and it goes straight to the bottom.”


Kelly said offshore spill equipment is designed for cleaning up oil slicks — not mud spills.

“It doesn’t float on the surface.

“It goes straight through the water column down to ocean floor, so it’s not something that you can catch in a boom or a skimmer.”

Downton said the company monitored the site following the spill and the mud has widely dispersed on the seabed.

“We did an ROV survey and it has dispersed.”

The CNLOPB said the food-based oil used in synthetic-based mud has “extremely low toxicity.”

“The base is non-toxic to humans, marine and wildlife,” said Downton. “It’s also biodegradable.”


Larger mud spills

Monday’s mud spill is the third-largest off Newfoundland since 1997, the year CNLOPB started keeping spill statistics.

The largest mud spill occurred in October 2004, when 96,600 litres of mud flowed from drill rig GSF Grand Banks.

“It appears that a valve may have been open from one of the mud pits, which led to the release of the synthetic-based mud.” Sean Kelly

It was drilling wells for Husky Energy at the White Rose oilfield. Husky was later fined $50,000.

The second-largest spill occurred in January 2007 as the rig Eirik Raude drilled an exploration well for Chevron Canada in the Orphan basin — sending 74,000 litres of mud to the seabed.


NDP questions CNLOPB

Provincial NDP Leader Lorraine Michael questioned the CNLOPB’s delay in reporting Monday’s mud spill.

The information was released Wednesday afternoon in spill statistics on the board’s website. No news release was issued at the time.

“This incident happened on Monday and we are only hearing about it today,” said Michael in a Thursday release. “That fluid has been four days in the ocean.”

She called the delay unacceptable.

“Once again we see the crying need for an independent offshore safety authority. It would appear industry and the CNLOPB have not learned the importance of timely communication with the public on matters of public importance.”

Kelly said the CNLOPB will tighten up its reporting process, but does need some time to verify spill information before releasing it.

Future updates on Monday’s spill will be posted on the board’s website:


Other mud spills 

It’s not the first mud spill at the exploration well known as Ballicatters M-96Z, which is located northeast of the Hibernia oilfield.

A day before Monday’s spill, five litres of mud leaked from the rig’s drill string.

On Jan. 19, the Henry Goodrich also spilled 78 litres of mud from a hose called a blowout preventer kill line.

Downton said it occurred during a test of the well control system.

“Typically, before we move from phase to phase in the (drilling) program, we will test the equipment.

“They were testing the line and discovered it had a crack in it.”

Some of the drilling mud leaked from the line. Downton said the hose was replaced in the matter of days.

“We didn’t do any well operations while that hose was being replaced. So, the well would have been secured during that period.”

Organizations: Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, Suncor Energy, Husky Energy Chevron Canada Hibernia

Geographic location: Terra Nova, Newfoundland, White Rose

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Recent comments

  • dan d man
    April 05, 2011 - 21:58 the political structure of a MODU..the crap rolls downhill to one of the lower inhabitants of the food chain who do not have the political clout to cover thier arses...(.normally a roustabout or mudlogger or other ) expect one of these pee-ons to swing for the spill.....middle management will not suffer any loss and will keep all thier jobs..

    • Terry
      April 07, 2011 - 11:41

      Ya got that right.

  • yo mama
    April 02, 2011 - 00:24

    "During drilling operations, mud is circulated through the drill pipe to lubricate equipment." HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA,,................

  • Where is my comment you bunch of bums
    April 01, 2011 - 14:46

    Where is my comment you bunch of bums

  • Calvin
    April 01, 2011 - 12:12

    Seriously, it is mud, not oil. Michaels is wailing for the board to be abolished because they didnt let the public know immediately about the spill. IT IS MUD!!! If the public had been informed on Monday instead of Wednesday, what would it have changed? Would some little girl have had to hold off on making a mud pie for her mother because the big oil company needed more mud, stealing it right out from underneath our sods? Give me a break. Election time really brings out the best in people. Get a life.

    • Terry
      April 05, 2011 - 15:25

      This is not the mud you find in a mud puddle Brainiac, its a compound of synthetic lubricants and clay.Its effects on the environment is said to be minimal but I for one don't trust what 'they say".

  • Scott Free
    April 01, 2011 - 08:36

    Seems like the CNLOPB could use a pr princess afterall. It took three days for spokeman Sean Kelly to state that the board was waiting to confirm the numbers; did he not believe the operators report? LIke the spill, did the information "leak out"? or, was it offered to the public? And, Minister Skinner says its up to the board to release information; shift the blame again. I think its long overdue to abolish the board; seems like it only panders to big oil and does not serve either as a regulatory body or hold anyone accountable for enviromental disasters or public safety.