BP plc’s Canadian unit has been granted a national environmental green light for a four-year exploration campaign across a 14,000-square-kilometer (5,600-square-mile) Atlantic Ocean drilling frontier offshore of Nova Scotia.
The approval, announced Thursday by federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, brushed aside industry critics’ warnings that the program risks repeating the 2010 Macondo well blowout by the company’s U.S. affiliate in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.
A book-length project review by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency rated exploration drilling accidents as very rare, significant harm as unlikely, and BP’s safety, wildlife protection and community-relations measures as satisfactory.
The minister’s 13-page approval statement features a long list of conditions ranging from careful interaction with natural marine features to consultation and jobs for the nearest aboriginal settlements. The remote seascape attracts intermittent fishing, shipping, research and naval manoeuvres.
The Scotian Shelf program, named after its location along the submarine boundary between the continent and the deep Atlantic, calls for drilling up to seven wells before the late 2022 expiry of four exploration leases granted to BP and Hess Corp.’s Canada unit in 2012.
Preliminary seismic surveys were conducted in 2014.
A BP unit in 2012 captured a quartet of deepwater exploration blocks offshore Nova Scotia, with record bids at the time totaling more than C$1.049 billion, according to the Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB).
The campaign schedule in the first phase calls for choosing two well sites and drilling at least one this year. Results of the initial phase would guide whether and where the remaining five allowed wells are drilled.
The environment minister’s decision enables BP to complete its regulatory approval package by obtaining permits from the CNSOPB and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. BP has hired Seadrill Operating LP’s West Aquarius rig for the first wells.
Opposition continues, with critics still warning that the Scotian Shelf drilling zone -- up to 370 kilometers (220 miles) east of Halifax in water 100-3,000 meters (327-9,810 feet) deep -- is three times as far offshore and twice as deep as the Macondo location was.
"The environmental assessment process for this project benefited from meaningful consultation and input from Indigenous groups and the public, as well as technical advice from federal experts across government,” said McKenna. “The legally binding conditions set out in my decision statement will help keep our environment safe for future generations while ensuring the growth of Canada's economy."