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Shell gets go-ahead for Shelburne Basin drilling project

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Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 19.31.15Shell gets go-ahead for Shelburne Basin drilling project


Shell Canada has received the green light to begin exploratory drilling off the coast of Nova Scotia later this year.

The project cleared its final regulatory hurdle late Monday when federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq gave the company conditional approval.

In a news release, Aglukkaq ruled the project won’t have a major impact on the environment.

“We are pleased that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency issued its environmental decision statements on the Shelburne Basin Venture Exploration Drilling Project,” Larry Lalonde, spokesman for Shell Canada Ltd., said in an interview Monday night.

“We’re also happy that the Canadian minister of environment stated in the decision statement that she’s of the opinion that the project will not cause significant adverse environmental effects.

“This is a significant milestone for our venture.”

Shell will be assessing conditions that the project must meet with respect to mitigation measures and followup requirements, Lalonde said.

“So, basically where we go from here, pending rig availability and obtaining the further regulatory permits and approvals (from the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board) that are required, we’re continuing to work toward starting … a two-well drilling program in the later part of 2015.”

Stena IceMax, the drill ship Shell has contracted to use off the coast as part of its $1-billion exploration program, is now working in the Gulf of Mexico.

Shell plans to explore an area in the Shelburne Basin, about 250 kilometres off the coast.

The company has said it will drill up to seven exploration wells over a four-year period.

Mark Butler, policy director at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, said the environmental group remains concerned about the wells and drilling in deepwater, and the risk that poses, particularly after the 2010 BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 people and caused a huge spill.

“Even though these wells can’t be seen from shore, if there was a major spill, we don’t think it would take much for the oil to reach shore or to reach Georges Bank,” Butler said in an interview Monday night.

“I see in the release … the minister cites the best available science, and one issue I know we raised a number of times and felt like it wasn’t adequately addressed was the use of dispersants.”

In the event of a spill, these solvents are used to break up the oil so that it is no longer visible on the surface, but it can then enter the water column or sink to the bottom.

“So … as a result of the spill in the Gulf, a fair amount of science was done on dispersants, and we felt the review didn’t adequately address the negative impact of dispersants,” Butler said.

“The question with the dispersants is, is the cure worse than the problem or is the solution worse than the problem, because these dispersants are toxic to marine life and they also have human health impacts.”

He said he was not surprised that the project was approved.

“With major spills, the probability is low but the impact is high. … There’s no way the minister can say there won’t be a blowout or a major spill. The minister can say that the chances are low, but she can’t say they’re zero by any means.”

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