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Shell Canada Ltd. is ready to begin exploratory drilling off the coast of Nova Scotia now that it has received conditional approval for the project from the country’s environmental minister.
Canada’s Environmental Assessment Agency issued the decision the night of June 15 after the environmental minister, Leona Aglukkaq, found that the project in the Shelburne Basin, 125 miles south of Nova Scotia’s southwestern coast, would not have a major impact on the local environment.
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Larry Lalonde, a spokesman for Shell Canada, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, told The Chronicle Herald of Nova Scotia that his company is “pleased” with Aglukkaq’s ruling on the Shelburne Basin Venture Exploration Drilling Project, and called it a “significant milestone for our venture.”
Lalonde said the company’s next task is to make sure the nearly $1 billion exploration program will conform to environmental requirements to earn the necessary permits from the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. In the meantime, though, he said, “We’re continuing to work toward starting…a two-well drilling program in the later part of 2015.”
The company has said previously that its plans include drilling as many as seven exploratory wells through 2019. Shell Canada owns 50 percent of the shares in the Shelburne Basin project and has two partners in the venture: ConocoPhillips, which owns a 30 percent share and Suncor Energy which controls the remaining 20 percent.
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For now, Lalonde said, the company is awaiting the arrival of the Stena Ice Max, the drilling ship that Shell Canada has contracted to use to begin the project. It is now working in the Gulf of Mexico, he said.
Shell Canada said Aglukkaq reached her decision based on a scientifically based federal environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which was passed by Parliament in 1992 and strengthened in 2012. The act requires the federal government to ensure that such projects adhere to the country’s environmental laws and imposes fines for violations.
Despite such preparations, some environmentalists remain leery of the project. One is Mark Butler, the policy director at the Ecology Action Center in Halifax, who expressed his organization’s continued concern about accidents at offshore wells such as the blowout at BP’s Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 that killed 11 people and caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
“Even though these wells can’t be seen from shore,” Butler said, “if there was a major spill, we don’t think it would take much for the oil to reach shore or to reach Georges Bank,” a stretch of the floor of the Atlantic Ocean reaching from Nova Scotia to Massachusetts’ Cape Cod.
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Butler referred to the government’s claim that its study was based on science, but added that the Ecology Action Center doesn’t believe it gave adequate attention to the use of oil dispersants in the event of a spill. Such chemicals may break up a slick on the surface, he said, but then can leave the oil to sink to the ocean floor. He also questioned the safety of the dispersants themselves.
“The question with the dispersants is: Is the cure worse than the problem … because these dispersants are toxic to marine life and they also have human health impacts,” Butler said.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com