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We're not smart enough, we're not worth it and we're not the Arctic

Documents show why Shell doesn't think Shelburne Basin merits an on-site capping stack

by Miles Howe

No stack for you! Costs are prohibitive, we're not unique like the Arctic, nor would we know what to do with it. So relax, the Norwegians will handle this. [Photo: trendsettingengineering.com]
No stack for you! Costs are prohibitive, we're not unique like the Arctic, nor would we know what to do with it. So relax, the Norwegians will handle this. [Photo: trendsettingengineering.com]

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) -- Through an Access to Information request, the Halifax Media Co-op has obtained internal communications between Shell Canada Limited and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs, as it relates to the chiefs' public concern over Shell's plans for the Shelburne Basin Drilling Project. Specifically, the documents relate the the chiefs' taking issue (along with tens of thousands who recently signed an online petition) with the weeks-long delay between the possibility of a deep-water, offshore, blowout and having a 'capping stack' in place to contain the potential blowout.

Judging from the Canada Environmental Assessment Agency's report on the Shelburne Basin Drilling Project, which could potentially see seven deep-water wells drilled over the next several years, the Nova Scotia chiefs have for months taken issue with the lengthy delay between a potential blowout.

The report, dated June 2015, reads:

“The Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq asked that a capping stack that the proponent proposes to use to stop a large blowout be located in Halifax. The proponent indicated that there is a large amount of infrastructure required to support the capping stack, including highly-specialized vessels that are typically found only in areas where capping stacks are now located (areas with high levels of offshore oil and gas activity such as the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico). The proponent stated due to the specialized requirements for the capping stack, the necessary facilities, equipment, and trained personnel are not available in Atlantic Canada. It would require substantial time (i.e. more than the term of the Exploration Licences) to develop such capacity locally and capital investment would be prohibitively high.”

In short, Nova Scotians wouldn't know what to do with a capping stack even if they had one, nor does Shell consider having an on-site capping stack a necessary investment (read: public pressure isn't high enough).

Although it appears that the chiefs' concerns over the lack of an on-site capping stack were subsequently appeased by Shell (our documents show that the chiefs would enter into “high level” negotiations and subsequently sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Shell over the Shelburne Basin project), public pressure over the '21-day delay' issue was such that on August 13, 2015, the chiefs, under the consultative group known as the 'Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative', or 'KMKNO”, issued a press release again noting their concern.

“Allowing up to 21 days is far too long,” noted Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation Chief Paul Prosper in the press release. “If this project is to move forward, focus needs to be placed on avoidance of a spill and stronger precautions must be undertaken to protect the environment, in all scenarios, before any work begins.”

In response, on September 2, 2015, Shell Canada Limited would write to the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs and subsequently invite them on further tours of their emergency response facilities.

With social media avidly drawing comparisons between the Shelburne Basin and Shell's Alaska drilling plan – where Shell was slated to have an on-site capping stack available (read: public pressure was high enough) – Shell writes to the chiefs:

“We understand comparisons are being made with the capping stack plans in place for Shell's Alaska operations. However, significant differences between the Shelburne and Alaska projects make is inappropriate to draw direct comparisons. The Alaska plan has been specifically developed with the unique Arctic environmental conditions in mind, which include seasonal ice conditions and remoteness which are not considerations for the Shelburne Project area.”

Granted, the Shelburne Basin is not necessarily as remote as the Arctic coast. Nor will sea ice potentially hamper delivery of a capping stack. But a capping stack will still need to come to Nova Scotia from Norway. Of the minimum twelve days that Shell now envisions as a timeline to deploy a capping stack to a Shelburne Basin blowout, Shell's letter to the chiefs shows that nine of those will be eaten up in transportation. In effect, the whole '21 day to 12 day' supposed capitulation by Shell was always just a matter of 'hurrying up' with the capping stack or not.

And granted, while the mind does not necessarily conjure up the same pristine wilds when comparing the Alaskan coastline with the Nova Scotian coastline, John Davis and the Clean Ocean Action Committee has recently plotted that a blowout at the Shelburne Basin would stand to have disastrous impacts upon marine life, established fisheries and the coastline. This, despite Shell's best efforts to plot a blowout from the Shelburne Basin as drifting relatively harmlessly out to sea.


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Topics: Environment
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