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Editorial: All about the money

Husky Energy’s SeaRose FPSO.
Husky Energy’s SeaRose FPSO. — Submitted photo

It’s more than unsettling: the idea that an oil company would keep a production vessel attached to production wells, even though an iceberg was close enough that staff on the vessel were told to muster for lifeboats and brace for impact.

Monday, CBC News reported on an access to information request CBC had submitted about the close call between the White Rose floating production storage and offloading vessel (FPSO) the SeaRose and an iceberg in March 2017. The SeaRose is operated by Husky Energy.

As a result of the close call – an iceberg came within 180 metres of the vessel – Husky was ordered to cease production on the SeaRose for a little more than a week by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB).

But that’s not the only unsettling information: the documents also show that the CNLOPB didn’t plan to divulge any additional information about the incident, unless it was directly asked for comment. The province didn’t say anything either.

In the 64 pages of documentation CBC received, there was a Jan. 17 email from an official in the Department of Natural Resources, which said bluntly that the head of the CNLOPB, Scott Tessier, had said that the decision not to follow established regulations and move the FPSO away from the iceberg was made for a disturbing reason.

The official quoted Tessier as saying, “the investigation showed that Husky’s decision was economically driven.”

But that’s not the only unsettling information: the documents also show that the CNLOPB didn’t plan to divulge any additional information about the incident, unless it was directly asked for comment. The province didn’t say anything either.

So far, Husky has been financially rewarded for its risk-taking decision. The company was shut down for nine days, instead of the six or seven weeks it would have taken to reconnect the FPSO if it had followed the established safety protocols and sailed away from the iceberg. (The SeaRose, by the way, had 84 crew on board, and 340,000 barrels of oil.)
And what about the provincial government? It has said it wants to fast-track oil development and speed up the regulatory process for oilfield exploration. And it was also apparently more than willing to keep a lid on details of the close call for almost 11 months. Is that the kind of regulation we want to see protecting our workers and environment? Why wasn’t the province calling for stronger enforcement and decrying putting economic interests ahead of safety?

Is the province’s silence also economic, because the government both receives oil royalties and is itself an equity owner in offshore oil projects?

“Safety trumps all. Safety is the No. 1, the No. 1 responsibility that we all have in our offshore. And I think that that is understood by all of us in our community and in our industry,” Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady said at the House of Assembly Tuesday.

Since when, minister?

Safety clearly wasn’t trumping all last March; money apparently was.

And what confidence should people in this province have that attitude has changed?

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