Friday, May 21, 2010

Plugging a (sarcasm) leak

Oh thank goodness.

For a while there I feared that Chevron’s drilling of the deepest oil well in Canadian history off Newfoundland could lead to a repeat of the “biblical” oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico.

No worries of that now, though.

The offshore regulator announced this week that it will use “greater oversight,” including more frequent inspections and audits of the well being drilled in the Orphan Basin, about 430 kilometres northeast of St. John’s.

Speaking of leaks, excuse me while I plug the sarcasm dripping on my keyboard.


All fixed.

It was only late last year that Canadian regulators relaxed offshore drilling regulations, giving the energy industry more flexibility when putting in place safeguards against oil spills.

Two steps back.

One step forward.
Keeping a closer eye on the Orphan basin well won’t change the fact that if something goes wrong it will be harder to fix than the Gulf of Mexico leak.

It may take months to plug the Gulf well.

How much longer would it take to fix a leak on the Orphan Basin — a well that’s 2.6 kilometres under water, almost a kilometre deeper than the well that broke in the Gulf?

For the past few weeks, crews have been rushing to drill a relief well at the site of the Gulf of Mexico spill to stem the flow of oil.

Such emergency backup wells are used to reduce pressure in the main well so it can be capped.

If the Orphan Basin well were to rupture, industry observers argue the equipment needed to drill a relief well would not be available fast enough.

It could take weeks — or months — to get rigs in place.

The Gulf well is leaking up to 50,000 barrels a day.

What will that amount of oil do to what’s left of the poor old endangered cod?
Ottawa instituted a moratorium on drilling off the coast of British Columbia in 1972 to stop a small amount of exploration in “environmentally sensitive” waters.

In recent years there have been calls to lift the moratorium, calls that have been silenced by the Gulf of Mexico leak.

But the waters off B.C. can be no more environmentally sensitive than our own.

Our groundfish stocks have been battered.

So have B.C. salmon stocks.

Why is there a ban on exploration in West Coast waters and not off the East Coast?
Earlier this month, Canada extended a moratorium on oil and gas exploration on Georges Bank, a rich fishing ground southwest of Nova Scotia.

The ban was set to expire at the end of 2012, but will now last three more years until Dec. 31, 2015.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter told the CBC that extending the ban is the right thing to do.

"We know that any decision on whether or not to lift the moratorium on Georges Bank could have significant economic and environmental impacts on the province, the country, and beyond," Dexter said.

"It is critical that government understands these impacts before such a decision is made."

The Danny Williams administration has set up a review of offshore drilling plans, although work on the Orphan Basin well will continue even as the review is being carried out.

So much for understanding the impacts before making a decision.

Here’s the line from Dexter that stuck with me:

He told the CBC that more research is needed to determine whether fishing and oil-and-gas industries can coexist.

You mean there’s a chance that fish and oil can't coexist?

Who knew.

See how hard it is to plug a sarcasm leak.

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