Since June, Statoil Canada has announced three new oil finds in the Flemish Pass, between the outer edge of Newfoundland’s Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap.
On Wednesday, the company announced that one of those discoveries — the first Bay du Nord exploration well — contains between 300 and 600 million barrels of recoverable light oil.
That makes it bigger than White Rose, but smaller than Hebron. The granddaddy of them all, Hibernia, contained about 1.4 billion barrels.
The announcement of new oil wells is always welcome news. Fluctuations in price notwithstanding, oil continues to tip this province’s fortunes into a level of prosperity it has never known. Continued development only pushes the security of that wealth further into the future.
But the Statoil wells — there’s no word yet on the size or feasibility of the other two — are also in deep water, about 500 kilometres off St. John’s.
This raises two very important concerns.
First, what right does Canada have over resources beyond its 200-mile (330 km) economic zone? As Ashley Fitzpatrick’s story in today’s Telegram shows, that’s still not completely clear.
More importantly, though, deepsea drilling has come under increased scrutiny since the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The spill from that disaster amounted to
5 million barrels of crude in what went on to become the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Cleanup only started winding up this summer, but a research paper out of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, released Thursday, suggests the environmental effects could last decades.
It’s not clear what would happen with a major spill so far off St. John’s; it’s possible the oil could reach foreign shores to the northeast.
But there are also continuing concerns of safety along the shores of this province — especially in Placentia Bay.
It’s ironic that on the same day Statoil announced its finding, a letter appeared on these pages highlighting deficiencies detailed in a 2007 Transport Canada review of disaster preparedness in Placentia Bay.
Harvey Jarvis of the fisheries union questioned whether any real action has been taken to address these problems, which essentially
highlighted a dearth of contingency infrastructure, equipment and crews along the shores of the bay.
“The report concluded that the area that included Placentia and St. Mary’s bays was three to 10 times more likely to have a serious oil spill than anywhere else in the area from Pouch Cove to Channel-Port aux Basques,” Jarvis noted.
That’s because with all the tanker traffic, Placentia Bay is one of the busiest shipping routes in Canada.
Accidents happen — just look at the recent Blue Puttees ferry grounding in Port aux Basques — so the question is as pertinent now as it ever was.
Are we truly prepared for the worst, or are cost margins more important than coastlines?