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Weeks to cap a subsea oil leak? It’s industry standard, says official

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Oil companies working in Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore say it could take weeks to bring in and install special equipment to cap a blown-out subsea well, but a company in Houston, Texas says that timeline could be shorter.

“With nothing else to hand, the industry has accepted that these systems are the standard. Until, of course, response times are investigated more fully,” said Andy Cuthbert, global engineering and technology manager for Boots and Coots, a well-control company owned by Halliburton.

Cuthbert said a system developed by Boots and Coots called RapidCap can be transported much faster than the systems most-often used by major oil companies, cutting down on travel time.

“What we’re saying is we can get to a site a lot quicker.”

Massive equipment to be shipped

Documents filed by ExxonMobil and Equinor, then called Statoil, to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency say it could take anywhere from 14 to 36 days to deliver and install capping stack systems, special devices that can be affixed to a blown-out well leaking oil into the sea.

In the documents filed by ExxonMobil for an exploratory drilling project in the Jeanne d’Arc Basin and Flemish Pass Basin, the company says it can cap a well in 14-21 days, with a worst-case scenario of 30 days.

Equinor gives a window of 18-36 days for an exploratory drilling project in the Flemish Pass Basin. A spokesperson for the company told CBC News earlier that those kinds of timelines are widespread across the industry.

Statoil contracted the West Hercules, a deepwater rig designed for harsh conditions, for exploration in the Barents Sea. (Statoil/Canadian Press) (Statoil/Canadian Press)

Cuthbert said the big delays come from old equipment that can’t be easily transported.

The most-often used stacks are owned by Oil Spill Response Limited, an British company whose shareholders include major oil companies, including ExxonMobil, Statoil and Chevron.

Those stacks are stationed in Norway, Brazil, South Africa and Singapore. If one is needed in Newfoundland and Labrador, it has to be shipped from one of those four locations.

Those cap systems can weigh between 50 and 100 tonnes and need to be transported on huge, specialized ships.

The availability of vessels that large, Cuthbert said, is “few and far between.”

30 days is industry standard, says CAPP

Paul Barnes, Atlantic and Arctic Canada director of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’s (CAPP), says a 30-day window for a capping system is the industry norm and that it’s not presently a concern for CAPP.

“It is certainly a long time, without a doubt,” he said. “But this would be a very rare occurrence, blowouts are very rare, worldwide. The view around the world is if there is a blowout, it will take at least 30 days in order to stop it.”

Paul Barnes, director of Atlantic Canada and Arctic for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. (CBC)

That’s because of transport, he said, but it’s also because the area around a blown-out well, and the well itself, need a lot of prep work. Preparing to lower and attach the cap also needs a lot of logistical work.

“A 30-day window seems to be the average worldwide in order to kind of prepare for a capping stack to go on. You could likely do it much quicker, but 30 days; it seems to be kind of an outlier, a good guess.”

Because of all the prep work needed, he said cutting down on travel time by shipping the stack by air won’t cut down on the overall time required to install the system.

“It will still take just as long by an air freight-able capping stack versus one that’s brought here on a vessel,” he said.

Cuthbert says the RapidCap system could change capping times. (Halliburton)

With respect to the RapidCap system, he said because it’s modular, it has to be dismantled, shipped and then put back together before it can be sailed out to the blown well, which takes time and testing.

“So the amount of time you will save is probably no different than you would by having it shipped by sea right away.”

Barnes said he couldn’t give an estimate for how long a best-case scenario installation would take if the equipment — ships and technicians included — were nearby, ready and waiting.

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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