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Shell given OK to take 21 days to cap a deep well oil blowout off N.S. coast

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Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 19.22.09By Zachary Markan, CBC News Posted: Aug 05, 2015

Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq has signed off on Shell Canada’s plan for dealing with a potential deep-well blowout on the Shelburne Basin.

Under its Well Containment Plan, Shell says it can have a primary capping stack in place within 12 to 21 days after a blowout.

Aglukkaq signed off on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s environmental assessment of the Shelburne Basin Venture Exploration Drilling Project on June 15.

The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board has not given Shell approval to do exploratory drilling yet.

A spokesperson with the CNSOPB says the board doesn’t know when it will give that approval.

In the environmental assessment for the project, Shell Canada says the capping stack equipment would be brought in from Stavanger, Norway.

Shell says it would also deploy a backup capping stack from either Scotland, South Africa, Singapore or Brazil.

“It seems to me almost inconceivable that (Shell) would give themselves up to 21 days to stop a blowout in an area that is so close to all of our major fishing ground here on the south shore,” says John Davis, who spends a lot of time on Nova Scotia’s south shore and is a long-time environmentalist.

Stark contrast to U.S. regulation

Davis says the decision to allow Shell up to 21 days to cap a blowout on the Shelburne Basin is in stark contrast to what U.S. regulators are requiring from Shell for an exploratory drilling project in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska.

The U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has given Shell an exploration permit on the condition that it must have a capping stack on a vessel nearby on standby that must be deployed within 24 hours of a blowout.

“What Shell said to our regulator is: ‘There isn’t a capping stack available in Canada, nor in North America. Nor is there a vessel capable of moving and maintaining that capping stack, so we can’t have one here because there isn’t one.’, ” said Davis.

“The reality is, there is no capping stack and there is no vessel anywhere unless the oil companies are forced to have it near their drill site by the regulators,” Davis continued.

“The vessel carrying the capping stack to the drill site (off Alaska) came from Norway. It simply doesn’t make sense that you could accept that argument.”

CBC made an interview request to the federal environment department and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to explain Leona Aglukkaq’s reasoning for approving Shell Canada’s Well Containment Plan for Shelburne Basin.

They deferred questions to the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board.

The Board wasn’t available for comment Wednesday, but will speak to the issue later in the week.

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