Photo: Hibernia platform; Source: ExxonMobil

Hibernia oil spill case goes to court three years after it took place

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

Back in 2019, the Hibernia platform, which is operated by Hibernia Management and Development Company (HMDC), had two oil spills. The first one happened in July when 12.000 litres of oil (75.48 barrels) was estimated to have been spilt from the platform, which was shut in as a result.

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HMDC determined that the oil and water interface layer – oil and water emulsion mixture – in the storage cell was the cause of the spill. After removing the interface layer from the storage cell, the company decided to revise its interface management procedures to protect against future possible recurrence.

Only days after the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) 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.

The power outage resulted in a loss of instrument air pressure which led to subsequent activation of the firefighting water deluge system. The high water rate from the deluge system flooded the hazardous drains system and tank (HODT) resulting in the overflow and discharge of hydrocarbons contained in the HODT to the sea.

After 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 this April. Originally, the amount was $40,000 in August 2021, however, after the firm filed a request for review, the review committee reduced the penalty. An inquiry into a spill from July 2019 was still ongoing at the time.

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In an update on Tuesday, the C-NLOPB disclosed that it has laid three charges against 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.

Furthermore, the C-NLOPB revealed that two of the three charges relate to contraventions of the Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Drilling and Production Regulations whereby C-NLOPB officers allege that HMDC “did not ensure that work or activity that was likely to cause pollution, ceased without delay;” and did not ensure compliance with their management system by failing to follow their processes for managing the associated risks for identified hazards.”

Moreover, the third charge relates to a violation of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Act, outlining that “no person shall cause or permit a spill on or from any portion of the offshore area.”

“As this matter is now before the courts, the C-NLOPB will not be commenting further at this time,” remarked the Canadian offshore regulator, while adding that the first appearance is 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).

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

When it comes to recent events related to the Hibernia platform, it is worth noting that an investigation was launched in March 2022 following a second near-miss incident on the platform in less than a week and the third one in less than a year.