Canada's Offshore Drilling Regulatory Review May Take Months After Gulf

Canada may take months to complete a review of offshore oil and gas drilling regulations in the wake of the spill at a BP Plc well in the Gulf of Mexico that began April 20, the country’s top energy regulator said.

“We sent a letter last Friday to all of the players in the industry,” National Energy Board Chief Executive Officer Gaetan Caron told reporters at a conference on energy regulation in Montreal. “The answer we got from most parties was: ‘Take your time, take more time than planned to take an in-depth look at the regulatory requirements.’”

Canada’s National Energy Board has been considering requests from oil companies to drop a regulation requiring them to be able to drill a so-called relief well -- which can stop the flow of oil from a leaking offshore well -- in the same drilling season. That review began in October, Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis told reporters today.

Caron said the regulator is now deciding how to “modify our approach after the events in the Gulf of Mexico,” and that its regulatory review will probably last “months, not weeks.”

The leak began after an April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, an offshore drilling rig owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by London-based BP. The rig sank two days later and an oily sheen from the leak reached the Louisiana shore today.

“The bottom line is, we can learn a lot about what happened in the Gulf of Mexico,” Paradis said. “The important thing is to make sure that for each single project, the companies respect the safety of the workers but especially the protection of the environment. If a project does not meet these requests, it won’t go through.”

Lessons

It’s too early to draw lessons from the spill, Caron said.

“Two weeks ago, I could not have described to you what a catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico looks like,” Caron said. “In a few weeks’ and a few months’ time, we will be able to understand how this happened and how we can avoid it in the future.”

Canada’s northern regions may hold vast amounts of untapped energy. BP said in September it estimates that the Arctic Ocean may hold around 200 billion barrels of oil equivalent resources, or between a quarter and half of the world’s hydrocarbons still to be discovered. BP owns acreage in the Beaufort Sea off Canada’s northern coast.

In March, the Canadian government requested bids for parcels in the Central Mackenzie Valley, the Mackenzie Delta and the Beaufort Sea.

To contact the reporter for this story: Frederic Tomesco in Montreal at tomesco@bloomberg.net.

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