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Biologists wonder how many seabirds are dead after Husky oil spill off N.L.

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Gail Fraser doesn’t think we’ll ever know how many birds are dead after the largest oil spill in Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore history.

Bill Montevecchi doesn’t either.

The two academics are leading experts in the seabird populations off Newfoundland and Labrador’s coastline, and both were devastated to learn of the spill on Friday.

“It’s a rough time of year and a cold time of year,” said Fraser, a professor of environmental studies at York University. “If they get their plumage compromised even by a small amount of oil, they can die of hypothermia.” 

Bill Montevecchi and Gail Fraser both study seabirds off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. Both have grave concerns for seabird populations after a recent oil spill. (CBC, York University)

The SeaRose suffered a spill while restarting production after an intense storm on Thursday, as eight-metre waves crashed into the ship.

The area affected — about 350 kilometres off St. John’s — is home to murres and dovekies this time of year as they make their way out to sea for the winter.

Fraser said they pack the area in high density and live right on the surface, making them vulnerable to any amount of pollution.

According to a release sent by Husky Monday evening, five oiled seabirds have been found and a wildlife rehabilitation centre has been set up.

Operations on the SeaRose remain on hold, the release said.

Distrust in the amount of oil lost

Both Fraser and Montevecchi recalled the 2004 oil spill on the Terra Nova floating production storage and offloading vessel (FPSO).

Initial reports by its owner, Suncor, said there had been 40,000 litres lost into the ocean. A few days later, it was updated to 170,000 litres.

As a result, Montevecchi is skeptical of the number placed on this spill — 250 cubic metres, or 250,000 litres.

“It’s really important to realize that that’s an estimate from the oil company — the company that’s liable for spills in the ocean, and they are giving us the estimate,” he said. “I don’t trust that’s in fact the amount of oil spilled.”

What does it do to fish? I don’t know. I don’t think any of us know– Bill Montevecchi

In 2004, seabird biologists tried to figure out how many birds were killed, but the best they could do was to pin the number somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000.

With the sea conditions in the area being rough, Montevecchi has low hopes for those surveying the damage to marine life this week.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever know. We’re not going to see those birds and that even begs the question of what does it do to plankton? What does it do to fish? I don’t know. I don’t think any of us know. We just know the oil shouldn’t be there.”

Fisheries union boss weighs in

Keith Sullivan is also left wondering what this means for the fish.

As the president of the fisheries union in the province, he’s worried about what this spill could mean for the men and women who make a living fishing off the Grand Banks.

FFAW president Keith Sullivan is concerned for the livelihoods of fish harvesters near the site of an oil spill off Newfoundland. (CBC)

“We know what the North Atlantic is like to operate in, so all precautions should be taken, particularly when there’s a storm. So that’s obvious,” he said.

“The other thing is that this can’t be cleaned up. We know if there’s a storm in these conditions … that’s going to be dispersed. That’s going to have an impact.”

Sullivan was angered to see Husky Energy involved in another controversy in the province’s offshore industry, after they were sanctioned earlier this year for failing to stop production while an iceberg came bearing down on them.

Restarting production doesn’t require approval

The decision to halt production during Thursday’s storm was made by each of the oil rigs independently. It is also their responsibility to decide when to start production again — without needing approval from the offshore regulator.

While the SeaRose decided to restart on Friday, all other production platforms stood down and remained shut in.

An investigation by the C-NLOPB will now determine if Husky Energy followed its approved safety plan in trying to restart production.

The FPSO SeaRose has been involved in two recent controversial incidents in Newfoundland’s offshore oil industry.

Waves at the time topped 8.4 metres — nearly 28 feet. A northwesterly wind cut across the ship at more than 80 kilometres per hour.

Fraser doesn’t believe that decision should have ever been Husky’s to make on its own.

“Part of the problem is that it’s a daily expenditure to have this rig being operated and not pumping oil,” she said. 

“So I would say it was an unfortunate decision that I wouldn’t have agreed with. And I would hope that the regulator going forward could have some rules about conditions where start-ups shouldn’t happen.”

With files from Chris O’Neill-Yates, Jane Adey and Ted Blades 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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