Gap in pipe the cause of Newfoundland’s largest-ever oil spill, which is now impossible to clean up

Click to play video: 'Weak connector caused Husky oil spill off NL coast'
Weak connector caused Husky oil spill off NL coast
WATCH: Weak connector caused Husky oil spill off NL coast – Nov 20, 2018

After four days of silence, Husky Energy is finally facing television cameras over what is now Newfoundland’s largest-ever oil spill.

The company says that a gap in the pipe at the SeaRose platform is what led to a record 250,000-litre spill on Friday, 350 kilometres southeast of St. John’s.

“We don’t know why this connector has disconnected,” said Husky Energy executive Trevor Pritchard on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Largest Newfoundland oil spill speaks to risks of offshore oil industry, board says

The leak occurred as the platform prepared to restart production during a fierce storm that was, at the time, the most intense in the world.

Husky says there was a loss of pressure, in an underwater pipe, connecting to the SeaRose, a vessel that helps produce and store oil.

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The sea was extremely turbulent — more than eight metres high — but Pritchard admits Husky did not get, or, even need, permission to operate in such dangerous conditions.

“We don’t get a time-by-time permission. We have a cycle of three years. Whereby the regulator takes a review of our operation, of our standards, of our procedures, and gives an operations authorization,” he said.

The province’s regulator, The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), suggests the decision is up to producers, adding that only Husky Energy attempted to restart production during the storm.

Scott Tessier, chief executive of C-NLOPB, said no oil sheens were spotted on the water on Monday or Tuesday, meaning the oil has likely broken down to the point that it cannot be cleaned up.

The board is now focused on wildlife monitoring and its investigation into the incident, southeast of St. John’s.

Husky Energy said that 14 oiled seabirds have been confirmed, although only three have been recovered.

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The company was recently in hot water for another safety-related incident.

An investigation by the offshore board found the company failed to follow its ice management plan during a 2017 near-miss between the SeaRose and a large iceberg.

The rig was not disconnected as the iceberg approached, with 84 people and upwards of 340,000 barrels of crude oil onboard at the time.

In 2004, 165,000 litres of oil leaked from the Terra Nova platform, which was at the time the largest for Canada’s East Coast offshore industry — still significantly less than the SeaRose’s 250,000-litre spill.

The accident has sparked renewed calls from concerned residents and politicians for the government to take a fresh look at how the province regulates its offshore oil industry.

Provincial NDP Leader Gerry Rogers asked in the House of Assembly Monday whether Premier Dwight Ball would create an independent offshore oil authority to ensure oil companies prioritize environmental and worker safety over profit.

Ball said independent groups are involved in the monitoring and the response to the spill as the current board investigates.

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