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'Early days' for Beaufort Sea drilling
Mayor says Tuk residents concerned about possible spills

Katie May
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 10, 2010

BEAUFORT DELTA - It's too early to tell if British Petroleum's policies for its underwater exploration projects in the Beaufort Sea will change because of the recent oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico, a spokesperson for the company says.

"It's still very early days with respect to our Beaufort plans," said BP Canada spokesperson Maureen Herchak. "And as you can appreciate, right now we're very focused on assisting our colleagues in the Gulf of Mexico as much as we can."

A BP-leased oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April, killing 11 people and leaking thousands of barrels of oil per day, prompting concerns about offshore drilling in the Beaufort.

The GNWT and some oil companies have asked the National Energy Board to postpone previously scheduled hearings on the safety of drilling in the Arctic until the investigation into the Gulf of Mexico explosion is complete.

Early next month in Inuvik, the NEB was set to review its policy requiring exploration companies to drill a relief well along with their main well in case of a blowout. The board has not confirmed that it will delay the hearings.

In a response to the NEB dated March 22, 2010, BP Canada argued against the Same Season Relief Well Capability Policy, stating drilling a relief well shouldn't be mandatory in the same season and suggesting other emergency response plans.

"BP recognizes that cost implications per se should not be a driving force in this review. It is worth noting, however, that proposed operations in the Beaufort could require commitments in excess of $1.5 billion before the regulatory processes are complete. Thus, additional certainty and clarity on dealing with the approach to well control generally, and relief wells in particular, are required now."

Last summer, BP Canada completed seismic surveys off the coast of Tuktoyaktuk with its Pokak 3D Seismic Program, using air guns to detect geological formations on the ocean floor.

Herchak said the results of those surveys are "in the process of being evaluated - it takes many, many months - so we won't know much for a while."

Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Merven Gruben said the community is concerned about nearby exploration efforts in light of the recent oil spill, but he echoed BP in saying it's too early to worry much yet.

"Obviously everybody's concerned, but not right away because there's no drilling in the Beaufort happening until at least 2013 anyway," he said. "It's always been a push of ours to have a secondary well in case something does happen - you know, you've got these multi-million dollar rigs out there and they say they're foolproof and yet this kind of thing happens way over there (in the Gulf of Mexico)," Gruben added.

"You can imagine if something like that happened in our Beaufort, where we're far away from any kind of big help."

Gruben said he will continue to push on the community's behalf for oil spill cleanup equipment and training.

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