Skip to main content

Stormy seas kept containment crews at bay Monday as estimates of an oil spill off the coast of Newfoundland increased dramatically.

As much as 170,000 litres of oil could have dumped into the ocean during a malfunction aboard the Terra Nova oil platform.

Original estimates said about 40,000 litres had spilled.

Story continues below advertisement

"It's a large spill," said Fred Way, acting chairman and CEO of the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board, which monitors the industry in the province. "It's not an Exxon Valdez category, but it's a large spill."

The board has suspended operations at Terra Nova until further notice.

Bob O'Brien, of the environmental group Ocean Net, said the area is home to many nesting birds and there will be habitat destruction.

"You're dealing with nature and its forces," he said. "I think the infrastructure that we have in place to clean up spills is probably very adequate, but you can't fight nature and its forces."

Mr. O'Brien said he's comfortable that Petro-Canada has been diligent in preparing for such a spill.

"We just need a weather break right now," he said.

The spill was the largest yet for Canada's East Coast offshore industry. But it was tiny when compared with other major spills around the world. In 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez leaked 42 million litres of oil when it ran aground on the coast of Alaska.

Story continues below advertisement

Rough seas Monday prevented crews from containing the slick, which had been driven 24 kilometres south of the platform by wind.

Aerial surveillance Monday showed the oil was beginning to break up and officials did not expect to have containment barriers in place until Tuesday at the earliest.

There is some containment equipment on board the platform but crews struggled with high winds and waves as high as six metres.

"That's beyond where you would expect containment barriers to be effective," said Dave Burley, manager of environment for the board.

Supply vessels were also tracking the spread of the spill.

The likelihood that a slick from Terra Nova, located on the Grand Banks 350 kilometres southeast of St. John's, would ever reach shore is very low, said Mr. Way.

Story continues below advertisement

Petro-Canada said this did not affect its response.

"Any spill is significant for us and we are treating this incident with the highest priority," said Ed Martin, incident commander for the company.

Petro-Canada said an outside response team had also been deployed to the area with additional containment and cleanup equipment.

"Sea conditions have been not ideal for putting spill equipment in the water so we've not been able to do a lot of that at this point," said John Downton, spokesman for Petro-Canada, operator and 34 per cent interest-holder in Terra Nova.

Petro-Canada said the spill occurred just after 1 a.m. local time Sunday morning.

Oil that would normally be separated from water was released into the ocean as a result of a mechanical problem.

Story continues below advertisement

"It was related to a problem with the separation process," Mr. Downton said.

Oil is brought to the surface mixed with water.

"In this instance, effectively what happened is the oil and the water weren't completely separated - there was still some oil in the water that was discharged," Mr. Downton said.

Petro-Canada estimates only about 20 to 25 per cent of the oil will be recovered. Most of the rest will dissipate into the ocean and eventually break down.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies