CNLOPB not ready for major oil spill offshore: federal auditors

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Environment commissioner says regulator yet to complete review of oil company spill response capability

Canada’s environment commissioner says the Canada–Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) is not ready to take over response to a major oil spill offshore in a case where an oil company fails to properly respond.

The same goes for the Canada–Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, according to the commissioner’s 2012 Fall Report, a write-up of the findings of an audit conducted by the commissioner’s office in 2012.

“While offshore oil and gas operators are responsible for responding to incidents ... the relevant board can take over management of the response, with support from federal departments and agencies. The obvious question from the audit is this: Are the boards and their federal partners adequately prepared to respond to a major oil spill?

“In my view, the boards and their federal partners are not adequately prepared and, although the probability of a major spill in the Atlantic offshore area is relatively low, they need to do more to prepare for one,” states Commissioner Scott Vaughan in the introduction to his report.

Vaughan makes note of the Macondo (Deepwater Horizon) incident in 2010, when lives were lost and an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The cost of the Macondo blowout has been estimated at US$40 billion.

“That incident demonstrated starkly the absolute importance of being ready to respond to a spill of that magnitude and the need for strong regulatory oversight to help prevent environmental disasters,” he states.

As for the preparedness locally, the commissioner has recommended the offshore regulators make improvements to their status quo.

“We identified several shortcomings, including insufficient spill response tools across the federal government, inadequately tested capacity, poorly coordinated response plans, and out-of-date or missing agreements between the boards and supporting departments.

“In addition, the (CNLOPB) has yet to complete its review of operators’ spill response capabilities and, therefore, does not have adequate assurance that operators are ready to respond effectively to a spill,” he states.

That review was started in 2008.

“Although the risks from an oil spill do not pertain to Nova Scotia, where only gas is currently produced, exploration for oil is expected to begin there in the near future,” Vaughan adds.

In the latest so-called land sale for offshore Nova Scotia, it was BP, the company paying out on settlements over the Macondo tragedy, that committed to $1 billion in exploration spending off Nova Scotia — an unheard of amount for a sale on exploration licences off Atlantic Canada.

Vaughan noted more exploration activity in the region and drilling at greater depths offshore increases the risk of an incident requiring rapid response.

The commissioner’s look at the CNLOPB and the CNSOPB’s response capabilities was only one part of his latest report.

The full report is now available online, through the Office of the Federal Auditor General. (Link:

The Telegram will have more on this story, including response to the report from the CNLOPB, in tomorrow’s edition.

Organizations: Canada–Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, Canada–Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, BP Office of the Federal Auditor General

Geographic location: Canada, Nova Scotia, Atlantic Gulf of Mexico

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Recent comments

  • crista
    February 05, 2013 - 16:24

    can any body remember reading the findings and the report and recommendations of the cold,raging, February night, AND WHAT HAPPENED and what was supposed to be done so you would not have to be reading this article????

  • Corporate Psycho
    February 05, 2013 - 14:36

    I have to have a 2 day fall protection course to do my job on land but my friend who works offshore only needs a 4 hour course? Doesn't seem right to me. How are the offshore companies getting away with this? What regulations do they follow? Does anyone know?

  • david
    February 05, 2013 - 12:51

    Hardly a shocking conclusion...the CNLOPB is nothing more than a concocted retirement office for ex-policos with no qualifications beyond their partisan affiliation. If anyone thinks that is cap[able or qualified to make urgent, important decisions under any sort of stressed situation or an inhumanly cold, raging, mid-February night 30 years ago.....well, you're simply simple.