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Suncor charged in spill offshore Newfoundland

Suncor Energy Inc. has been charged with offences tied to a spill at a drilling site off the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board has laid three charges against Suncor: causing or permitting a spill into the offshore area; failure to ensure drilling fluids were stored and handled in a manner that would have prevented pollution; and failure to ensure drilling fluids were handled in a way that did not create a hazard to safety or the environment.

They all relate to a spill of so-called synthetic based mud – a heavy, dense fluid used to lubricate drilling pipes and control reservoir pressure – from an offshore drilling rig.

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Transocean Ltd. , the drilling company running the Deepwater Horizon rig when it exploded and caused the infamous Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, operated Suncor's east coast drilling outfit where the spill occurred, said Sneh Seetal, a spokesperson for the Canadian company.

The C-NLOPB investigation followed a spill of 26,400 litres on March 28, 201l.

The mud is non-toxic to humans and marine wildlife, Ms. Seetal said. "The product was chosen because it is more biodegradable than some other drilling fluids, and it is approved for use," she said.

Ms. Seetal declined to say how Suncor would respond to the charges, noting the company will not comment because the issue is before the courts. The company, if convicted, could face a maximum penalty of $1-million for each offence, and a judge could employ creative sentencing, such as directing the money to an environmental fund, said Sean Kelly, a spokesperson for C-NLPOB.

The Canadian energy giant is primarily an oil sands company, but obtained offshore assets when it took over Petro-Canada in 2009. The spill happened in the Jeanne d'Arc basin, the C-NLOPB said in a statement issued Wednesday.

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