250km offshore Nova Scotia: A firsthand look at life on a drillship
On January 22, 2016 at 8:30 a.m., Energy Minister Michel Samson pulled on a survival suit and climbed onboard a helicopter. He was invited to spend a day aboard the Stena IceMAX, Shell Canada’s drillship, and he hitched a ride with some of the crew heading to work 250km offshore Halifax. With years of experience on the Atlantic Ocean himself, Minister Samson said it was an experience of a lifetime.
Q: Why was it important for you to make this trip?
Seeing any energy project firsthand makes me a better minister. I can take what I’ve learned back to the policy discussions we have at the department and at the cabinet table. I get to see the operation in action, the safety protocols, and the use of technology. I also like meeting the people behind the project, asking them where they’re from, about their work, and what life is like for them.
Q: What did you find most surprising about the operation?
I’ve been on my share of boats, but nothing like this. The IceMAX is massive and highly sophisticated - one of the best in the world with everything on a large scale. I was amazed by the primary function of this ship – operating an enormous drill from a ship on the surface of the water. It’s incredible how they do this in the harsh conditions of the open ocean. The engineering systems, both on the drillship and at the well head site under about 2,100 metres of water, are incredibly impressive.
Q: What questions were you asking?
Last fall, I heard from several Nova Scotians with concerns about spills and blowouts, and it was on my list to better understand the emergency response systems the ship has in place, in the remote case that something goes wrong. Well, rest-assured, the technology and response protocols are an essential part of this operation. I felt dwarfed by the size of the blowout preventer onboard the ship, which is one of two at the site. The other blowout preventer is installed underwater, on top of the well head, and is accompanied by a camera that sends images up to the operator at all times.
Q: Did you meet some of the crew?
Yes. First, I flew with some of the crew members on the 1.5-hour flight to the ship. The Stena IceMAX has its own full-time crew, but I met several Nova Scotians and other Canadians who also work onboard. They are well-trained and take safety measures to a new level. True to my Cape Breton roots, it wasn’t long before I ran into someone from my home town – she works for a catering company that services the crew.
Q: This is not a typical site visit. What will you take away from this experience?
Shell Canada and its partners, ConocoPhillips and Suncor, committed to spending about $1 billion as part of its bid for the licences to explore our offshore. This drilling program started last October. Not many ministers could make this trip and I’m really glad I did. Even completing survival safety training (at Dartmouth-based Survival Systems) was an achievement.
In the end, I have a tremendous appreciation for the world-class operation happening in our offshore, supported by the dedicated men and women onboard. I’ll be pleased to see even more international players coming in the next few years.
This activity benefits our communities and the ocean-sector service and supply chain across the province. I am hopeful that this and other exploration programs are successful and that one day Nova Scotians will benefit from the resulting royalties.