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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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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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DFO tries to allay fishermen’s fears that protected area would impact livelihood

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The two-lane highway along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore is dotted with dozens of signs declaring “No Marine Protected Area Here!”

It’s a sign, literally, of organized opposition to a proposed 2,000-square-kilometre marine protected area.

The Eastern Shore Islands area is the first coastal candidate in Canada with an active inshore commercial fishery, albeit a small one with just 150 lobster fishermen. Still, they are a mainstay of the local economy and leading the opposition.

The fishermen fear a marine protected area, or MPA, would automatically lead to so-called no-take zones, barring industrial activities like harvesting.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is moving to put those fears at rest.

“We will not be making a recommendation for there to be a zone of high protection within the MPA,” said Wendy Williams, director of DFO Maritimes Oceans Management.

A “No Marine Protected Area Here!” sign is seen along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. (Robert Short/CBC)

Last week, the department presented the results of a draft risk assessment to an advisory committee established to recommend what should or should not be allowed inside Eastern Shore Islands.

The committee was created after the department declared the unspoiled archipelago of hundreds of islands an area of interest. It is the first step on the road to designation as a marine protected area under the federal Oceans Act.

The risk assessment concluded the lobster fishery would not harm the kelp beds, eel grass and cod nursery the federal government wants to protect.

“The predominant activity that takes place there is the lobster fishery. It’s a low-impact fishery. It only operates two months a year, so we feel it’s not necessary to have a no-take,” Williams said in an interview.

“We talked to the advisory committee about that and what we heard and unanimously around the table is that they felt the same way. So in our design going forward we will not be incorporating a no-take zone.”

Fishermen seek assurances

But fisherman Peter Connors is not declaring victory.

“You have to remember this is deathbed conversion,” he said.

As president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, Connors represents the 150 active lobster fishermen in the area.

He does not trust DFO and is seeking some sort of legally binding commitment from federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson honouring Williams’s promise.

As president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, Peter Connors represents the 150 active lobster fishermen in the area. (Robert Short/CBC)

“I want to know the mechanism that he’s going to use and just how he intends to secure that for future generations,” said Connors. “I don’t want a trust me proposition and I don’t want a temporary reprieve … just because they are facing a lot of opposition now.”

Connors acknowledged a marine protected area on the Eastern Shore could help “Canada’s brand” from a marketing perspective. The country has committed to protecting 10 per cent of its ocean by 2020.

‘Give and take’

Environmentalists have watched in frustration as opposition to Eastern Shore Islands galvanized over the prospect of no-take zones.

Susanna Fuller, senior projects manager for conservation organization Oceans North, urged DFO to eliminate no-take zones from the discussion last year.

“Since it has been such an issue of contention, we are hoping that this gives the community and the fishermen a sense that they are being heard,” said Fuller.

“For this process to go forward there needs to be some give and take.”

While DFO has decided to allow unrestricted lobster fishing inside Eastern Shore Islands, Williams said no precedent has been set.

“Every MPA is different. If people have their expectations raised in any particular way because of what we’re looking at now for this MPA, they really shouldn’t. Everything is unique and we need to look at it that way,” she said.

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