Canada: C-NLOPB Responds to Accusations About Mud Spill Reporting

The C-NLOPB is responding to criticisms made in the media recently in relation to spill reporting. The C-NLOPB received notification from Suncor on March 28 of a 26,400 litre spill of synthetic based mud (SBM) from the MODU Henry Goodrich to which Suncor, the Operator, responded immediately.

The Board has commenced an investigation based on the information collected subsequent to the spill. Environment Officers were on board the Henry Goodrich over the weekend to further the investigation. The Operator is also required under legislation to conduct its own investigation and report the findings to the C-NLOPB.

Synthetic based mud is a heavy, dense fluid used during drilling operations to lubricate the drill pipe and balance reservoir pressure. Because of its weight, the mud sinks rapidly in the water column and rests on the sea floor. The synthetic oil used in SBM is a food-grade oil of low toxicity. Because of this, effects of SBM spills typically are limited to within tens of meters of a well site and are associated with physical smothering due to seabed coverage by the mud. The Board has not yet determined what, if any, environmental remedial action would be appropriate.

The investigation into the cause and environmental impacts is underway. A survey of the seabed was conducted by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). Water samples and sediment samples were taken. Suncor tasked a stand-by vessel to conduct a survey for signs of SBM on the surface. Suncor also contacted Coast Guard as required. The Weather Observer and the Suncor Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Advisor conducted visual surveillance for sea birds and mammals.

The C-NLOPB does not “cover-up” any spill into the environment. Operators are required to report all spills to the C-NLOPB in accordance with the Accord Act and regulations. The C-NLOPB also issues Guidelines for Reporting and Investigation of Incidents which describes how reporting is to be done by Operators. The C-NLOPB reports spills greater than one litre on its website (www.cnlopb.nl.ca). The C-NLOPB is one of the most transparent offshore regulators in the world for reporting spill data.” C-NLOPB said in a statement.

“The Board does not subscribe to the view that Operators should be compelled to place a third party observer on offshore installations. Also, the Board is not aware of any offshore jurisdiction where a full-time observer is required on installations at all times. The Board believes that a crucial goal of the offshore regulatory structure is to ensure that personnel employed by offshore Operators, and particularly members of the offshore workforce, are cognizant of the need to perform their duties in a safe and environmentally prudent manner, are competent to perform these duties, have the systems and procedures in place to enable this, and conscientiously follow these systems and procedures in practice. The Operator carries the ultimate legal responsibility for this and the Board has the duty to assure itself that this responsibility is properly and diligently discharged.

To ensure that this is the case, Board staff conducts a detailed review of Operators’ safety and environmental management systems prior to approving activities monitors reports from offshore drilling and production operations on a daily basis; and conducts detailed safety and environmental audits offshore. The Board currently employs safety and environmental officers who are charged with the latter duties.”

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Source: CNLOPB , April 6, 2011

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