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Nova Scotia’s offshore petroleum regulator has granted BP Canada Energy Group approval to begin drilling a well off the province’s coast.

The Aspy D-11 exploration well is the first in BP Canada’s Scotian Basin Exploration Project, which could see up to seven exploration wells drilled off the southeast coast of Nova Scotia over a three-year period.

The oil and gas company submitted an application to the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board in September, 2017, to drill an exploration well approximately 330 kilometres off the coast of Halifax.

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Nova Scotia's offshore petroleum regulator has granted BP Canada Energy Group approval to begin drilling a well off the province's coast.HO/The Canadian Press

Anita Perry, BP Canada’s regional manager for Nova Scotia, described the application process as lengthy and rigorous.

“We’re confident we addressed all issues and risks for a safe drilling program,” she said in a phone interview Saturday, shortly after the approval was announced.

Ms. Perry did not say exactly when drilling will commence, but confirmed “it’ll be soon.”

Exploration wells are used to find gas and oil, but further approval from CNSOPB is required before anything can be extracted.

“You never produce from an exploration well. We will drill the well, and we will assess if there are any hydrocarbons that are there,” Ms. Perry said, adding the company will plug the well once the exploratory project is completed.

Speaking from the Liberal Party of Canada convention in Halifax on Saturday, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil threw his support behind the planned exploration.

He said he’s hopeful that the potential discovery of natural resources will help boost the province’s economy, but the fickle nature of oil and gas prices could pose a challenge.

“That resource, if it becomes available, and the costs associated with that, will be managed in a way that actually allows us to build in the services that Nova Scotians want, but making sure that, if there’s a fluctuation, they’re not put in jeopardy,” he said.

“Yes, we’d use some of that [revenue] to put in health care, and education, and looking after vulnerable citizens. But at the same time, we would leave some set aside [so] that we’re able to make sure that, when the price changes, we’d be able to weather that storm.”

Mr. McNeil also stated his confidence that the appropriate measures will be taken to ensure safety and environmental responsibility throughout the project.

He said BP has taken strides to strengthen precautionary controls in the eight years following the company’s disastrous Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers and triggered the biggest offshore spill in U.S. history.

“BP responded to that community in a way to deal with the issue; they didn’t shy away from it,” said Mr. McNeil. “I believe that this activity [the drilling] can happen off our coast in an environmentally friendly way.”

Angela Giles, Atlantic regional organizer for the Council of Canadians, said she’s “disappointed, but not surprised” that BP Canada was given the go-ahead to proceed with the drilling project.

She said the biggest concern for her organization is the risk of a spill.

“While these catastrophic incidents are not common, they’re possible, and no amount of regulations can completely protect us from that happening,” she said, adding that U.S. coastal communities and ecosystems are still suffering the effects from the 2010 spill.

Ms. Giles said, more broadly, the council is pushing for the government to stop relying on fossil fuels and begin transitioning to renewable energy.

“Wind and solar are proven to be relatively safe and sustainable for our future and for the environment as well,” she said.

CNSOPB spokesperson Stacy O’Rourke said Saturday that the board will keep a watchful eye on BP Canada throughout the project to ensure regulatory standards are being met.

“Once an authorization is granted, the board’s work is really just beginning,” she said.

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