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Drill ship headed to N.S. as Shell prepares for oil exploration

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Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 07.55.40CTV Atlantic: Wednesday, October 14, 2015

With a drill ship on its way to Nova Scotia, it may be just a few weeks before Shell Canada begins oil exploration in the Shelburne Basin.    

The Stena IceMax is one of the most modern drill ships in the world and weighs nearly 60,000 tonnes. It’s designed to drill in deep water and is due to arrive in Nova Scotia around Oct. 20, although the date is flexible.

“It’s difficult to say when it will be within the staging area because we are awaiting a decision from the CNSOPB [Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board] before we could begin any drilling activity,” says Cameron Yost, a spokesman for Shell Canada.

In 2012 Shell acquired exploration licences for the Shelburne Basin, located about 250 kilometers southeast of Halifax. The wells will be drilled in very deep water, which is why the company needs a drill ship, as opposed to a drill rig.

“Water depths range from about 1,500 metres to 3,500 metres,” explains Yost.

Shell has committed nearly $1 billion to the exploration project, a portion of which was spent on seismic work. Drilling will begin once approvals are granted by the federal- provincial petroleum board.

“I think it’s good news for Nova Scotia and great news for my member companies to see that work proceed,” says Ray Ritchey, CEO of the Maritimes Energy Association.

A spokesperson for the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board says a rigorous examination is being conducted on Shell’s application for the drilling licences. Among the conditions is one that includes local benefits.

“We have between 10 and 15 of our member companies who are already participating in some of the awards that Shell has made to date, and that number is probably on the low end,” says Ritcey.

“Half of the staff on the ship are Canadian, and a number of those crew are from Nova Scotia,” says Yost.

Although the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency gave its approval in June, with a 21-day time limit to cap blowouts, Shell is still required to provide an oil spill response that will satisfy the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board.

Meanwhile, four offshore supply boats that will ferry supplies to the Stena IceMAX are awaiting the drill ship’s arrival.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Rick Grant

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