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BP Canada Plan Surfaces as Fifth Grand Banks Exploration Campaign

After winning a contested Canadian environmental approval for deep sea drilling offshore Nova Scotia, the Atlantic oil and gas hunt aims to sail farther northeast onto the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

A BP Canada plan for up to 20 wells has surfaced as the fifth Grand Banks exploration campaign to advance into the public review stage before the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).

The Calgary-based BP plc unit, backed by investment partners Hess Canada and Noble Energy Canada, plans to start dispatching rigs in 2019 or 2020 out to 8,440 square kilometers (3,258 square miles) of Orphan Basin drilling leases, 350 kilometers northeast of St. John's.

A project description filed by BP Canada with the CEAA describes the proposal as an element in a long-range global strategy of its corporate parent, to focus on the strongest known big prospects for maintaining supplies at competitive costs.

"Recognizing the need to work toward a lower carbon future, BP is evolving its energy strategy to produce energy more efficiently and remain competitive in a time when prices, policy, technology and customer preferences are changing,” the project description said. “One of these strategies involves investing in new large-scale gas projects and pursuing quality oil projects in core basins."

No detailed forecasts of drilling expenses are disclosed for the exploration campaign proposed on the remote seascape, in water up to 3,000 meters (9,810 feet) deep 250 kilometers north of the nearest operating Grand Banks production platform.

However, to obtain the Orphan Basin leases 15 months ago from the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), BP, Hess and Noble committed to conduct C$425.8 million (US$341 million) in exploration work.

The 2016 lease auction included a glowing forecast of potential discoveries, derived by French consulting house Beicip Franlab from recent marine seismic surveys. A western segment of the remote Orphan Basin alone was projected to harbor 25.5 billion bbl of oil and 20.6 Tcf of natural gas.

The area is also among multiple remote Grand Banks targets of proposals for drilling that are currently awaiting CEAA approval from four other industry exploration partnerships led by Husky Energy, Nexen Energy, ExxonMobil Corp. and Statoil ASA. Statoil touted two discoveries offshore Eastern Canada two years ago.

The BP-led group’s plan acknowledged that Orphan Basin drilling rigs face a "dynamic climate" of wind, rain, snow, pack ice, currents, and up to 15.9-meter (52-foot) waves.

But the CEAA set an encouraging precedent for Canadian deep Atlantic drilling plans last month by approving a BP Scotian Shelf exploration campaign in formidable natural conditions 370 kilometers offshore Halifax.

The approval brushed aside critics' warnings that the North Atlantic is more challenging than the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, where BP’s Macondo well suffered the worst blowout in U.S. history in 2010.

"Legally binding conditions...will help keep our environment safe for future generations while ensuring the growth of Canada's economy," predicted the Scotian Shelf decision.

Even at its height the Macondo ordeal failed to shake confidence in Canadian supervision of offshore oil and gas activity.

Then-C-NLOPB Chairman Max Ruelokke, told the East Coast news media at the time, "We believe that things that were done in the Gulf of Mexico were not in compliance with the existing regulations in the Gulf and probably not even in compliance with good oil field practice. We would never allow such a thing to happen. Our policy, procedures, training, equipment are such that it will not happen."

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