Well, it’s official.
BP has been approved to conduct, and is about to begin, exploration drilling as part of the Scotian Basin Exploration Project. According to an official BP statement1: ‘Approximately 330 kilometres offshore Nova Scotia, BP commenced drilling operations at the Aspy D-11 exploration well in April 2018.’
Some technical background
According to BP, ‘exploration involves both seismic acquisition and drilling wells.’ Back in 2014, BP conducted a safe and successful 3D seismic programme of the lease area. The data collected allows geologists to estimate where potential hydrocarbons may reside but only drilling a well will confirm their presence.
During exploration drilling, information and samples are collected about the rocks and fluids (water, gas and oil) encountered by the well in order to determine the presence, nature and quantities of the potential hydrocarbon resource.
BP has taken serious – and necessary – steps to engage with stakeholders and communities on the project since 2013. Part of the environmental assessment process includes public participation opportunities throughout project development.
This initiative has stimulated considerable media interest, both locally and nationally. Alex Cooke, writing in the Financial Post (April 21, 2018) – BP Canada given the go-ahead to start drilling off Nova Scotia Coast2 – quoted Anita Perry, BP Canada’s regional manager for Nova Scotia, who described the application process as lengthy and rigorous. ‘We’re confident we addressed all issues and risks for a safe drilling program,’ she said.
Risk of a spill
Later in the Financial Post article, Angela Giles, Atlantic regional organizer for the Council of Canadians, was quoted as saying she’s ‘disappointed, but not surprised’ that BP Canada was given the go-ahead to proceed with the drilling project. She said the biggest concern for her organization – which we all share – is the risk of a spill.
‘While these catastrophic incidents are not common, they’re possible, and no amount of regulations can completely protect us from that happening,’ she said, adding that U.S. coastal communities are still suffering the effects from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, for which BP was held responsible.
Risk vs. return
My belief is that the opportunities presented by the Aspy D-11 exploration well outweigh the possible environmental downside. Apparently, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil agrees.
Speaking from the Liberal Party of Canada convention in Halifax recently, he said he’s hopeful that the potential discovery of natural resources will help boost the province’s economy, but the fickle nature of oil and gas prices could pose a challenge. He stated:
‘That resource, if it becomes available, and the costs associated with that, will be managed in a way that actually allows us to build in the services that Nova Scotians want. Yes, we’d use some of that (revenue) to put in health care, and education, and looking after vulnerable citizens.’
Premier McNeil also stated his confidence that the appropriate measures will be taken to ensure safety and environmental responsibility throughout the project.
Oil exploration, if we’re honest, is always an environmental gamble. Writing in The Chronicle Herald (May 15, 2018) John McPhee reported – Expert questions BP drilling plans3 – that an engineering expert and former oil industry consultant has raised the alarm on BP Canada Energy Group’s plans to drill off Nova Scotia.
He quoted Robert Bea, professor emeritus at the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at the University of California at Berkeley – who has investigated catastrophes including the Columbia space shuttle explosion in 1987 and the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon rig owned by BP eight years ago – as saying:
‘Given BP’s current proposals for exploratory drilling offshore Nova Scotia, the likelihood of an uncontrolled blowout exceeds the upper limits for tolerability of exploratory well drilling risks.’
While I believe – from an economic perspective – it’s a risk worth taking, ultimately we’ll all have to hope that BP does a better job with Aspy D-11 than they did with Deepwater Horizon.
Dave Ritcey, The Ritcey Team, Scotia Wealth Management