Four-year saga comes to an end as operator pleads guilty in Hibernia oil spill case

The company operating the Hibernia platform off the coast of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, has pled guilty in relation to an oil spill from this platform, which occurred in July 2019, according to the Canadian offshore petroleum regulator.

Hibernia platform; Source: Hibernia Management and Development Company

In July 2022, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) laid three charges against Hibernia Management and Development Company (HMDC) for alleged offences related to a spill of petroleum from the Hibernia platform in the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador offshore area on 17 July 2019. The first court appearance was scheduled for 24 August 2022 at Provincial Court in St. John’s.

HMDC is an ExxonMobil-led consortium operating the gravity base structure platform and the shareholders are ExxonMobil (33.125 per cent), Chevron (26.875 per cent), Suncor (20 per cent), Canada Hibernia Holding Corporation (8.5 per cent), Murphy Oil (6.5 per cent), and Equinor (5 per cent).

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Based on the C-NLOPB’s latest statement, HMDC has pled guilty to a charge stemming from an unauthorised discharge of petroleum that occurred on 17 July 2019 from the Hibernia platform. This platform, which is operated by HMDC, had two oil spills in 2019. The first one happened in July when 12.000 litres of oil (75.48 barrels) was estimated to have been spilt into the Atlantic Ocean from the platform, which was shut in as a result.

Only days after the Canadiana regulator told HMDC it could restart production, a second oil spill happened in August 2019. At the time, the estimated volume of oil spilt from Hibernia was 2,184 litres. The spill was determined to have been triggered by a power outage due to a faulty fuel valve actuator on Main Power Generator B, while Main Power Generator A was offline for maintenance.

Following a probe into the two spills, HMDC was given the go-ahead in September 2019 to resume production from Hibernia. In relation to the spill from August 2019, the company was fined $28,000 in April 2022. Originally, the amount was $40,000, however, after the firm filed a request for review, the review committee reduced the penalty. An inquiry into the oil spill from July 2019 was still ongoing at the time.

As HMDC was found guilty of causing pollution due to the oil spill on 19 July 2019, the C-NLOPB explains that a fine of $90,000 was imposed under the Accord Act. In addition, HMDC was ordered to pay $310,000 into the Environmental Damages Fund.

Meanwhile, the Canadian regulator is monitoring HMDC’s investigation into the root cause of an incident during the lifting of a chemical tank from the Hibernia platform to a support vessel by crane, which occurred on 25 July 2023 when a 1.8-kilogramme piece of timber from the tank support frame fell 15 metres to the deck of the vessel.

“There were no injuries. No personnel were inside the pre-designated lifting exclusion zones either on the platform or the vessel, however, the incident had the potential for fatality based on the dropped objects prevention scheme (DROPS) calculator,” outlined the C-NLOPB.

The Hibernia platform was towed to the Hibernia oil field and positioned on the ocean floor in June 1997 and began producing oil on 17 November that same year. The topside facilities accommodate drilling, production, and utility equipment on the platform, and provide living quarters for the steady-state crew of approximately 185 people.