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If there is ever a deepwater oil blowout, help could be weeks away

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It could take weeks to get a disaster-stopping piece of equipment to Newfoundland and Labrador in the event of a subsea oil blowout, according to documents filed by Statoil, now known as Equinor, the company behind the province’s first foray into deepwater oil development.

Documents filed by the company to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency in relation to an application for exploratory drilling projects in the Flemish Pass, near the newly-announced Bay du Nord project, indicate that if a well blew, a capping stack — a device used to reign in blowouts — would have to be shipped in from Norway or Brazil.

“Statoil’s [Environmental Impact Statement] indicates that the capping of a well is estimated to take between 18 and 36 days,” the document reads.

“A conservative estimate for a capping operation, including mobilization, installation offshore and capping operations, is estimated to take 36 days,” it says.

Capping stack ended Deepwater Horizon spill

A capping stack is a special device used to divert or contain a leaking subsea well. It was a capping stack that was finally able to stop the 87-day gush of oil from a blown-out subsea well during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, recognized as one of the most disastrous oil spills in U.S. history.

The explosion at British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon offshore rig in April 2010 killed 11 workers and injured 17 others. (U.S. Coast Guard/Associated Press)

In 2015, Shell Canada proposed a deepwater drilling project off Nova Scotia, with an estimated timeline of between 12 and 21 days to cap a blowout. The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board made Shell reduce that window to between 12 and 13 days, despite demands from environmental groups that the standard be set to one day.

Equinor Canada is leading the Bay du Nord deepwater oil project, along with Husky Energy, in the Flemish Pass Basin, in water more than a kilometre deep about 550 kilometres off the coast of St. John’s. 

The company will be filing a separate environmental impact statement to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for the Bay du Nord development, and a spokesperson for Equinor Canada said the company doesn’t expect the timeline for the capping device’s delivery and installation to change. 

An official with the Newfoundland & Labrador Oil & Gas Industries Association points to the location of the Bay du Nord oil discovery on an exploration map. The location is a three-hour helicopter ride from St. John’s. (Ted DIllon/CBC)

The Bay du Nord project is expected to be sanctioned in 2020.

Bay du Nord area not well understood

It’s a volatile, complicated area of the sea, and a confluence of a number of strong currents, according to Brad de Young, a physical oceanographer at Memorial University.

“It’s a complex region with strong surface currents, so maintaining position for an offshore platform there would be, and has been, a challenge,” he said. “If there were a spill … it’s like releasing oil in the middle of an intersection.”

“It’s not a region that one has a great deal of kind of oceanographic confidence in,” he added, noting that the present scientific understanding of how the currents interact is “not so perfect.”

Brad de Young is an oceanographer with Memorial University of Newfoundland, in St. John’s. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Strong, kilometre-deep currents don’t help things in deepwater spills, de Young said, which pose completely different problems than spills in shallower water.

When a line or a well leaks far beneath the sea, the oil can stay under the water for long periods of time, making it impossible to track or clean up, he said. 

“Not knowing where it is and not being able to recover it means you don’t really know where it ends up or what damage it’s doing.”

Producing oil at depths beyond a kilometre is a practice only a decade or two old, de Young said, which means there are still a lot of unknowns to grapple with. And the further down we go, he said, the farther away we move from the historical expertise of oil companies.

“The culture of oil development for oil companies is much more land-focused than it is marine-focused,” he said. 

“They’re not like fishermen who … have this experience and awareness of the ocean kind of built into their genes. When you talk to oil companies, you get that understanding that the ocean for them is a real nuisance and it’s not something they’re particularly interested in. It’s something that’s in the way of them getting out their oil.”

Read more stories 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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