Call for Nova Scotia offshore exploration licences gets no bids

·3 min read
The long-running Sable Offshore Energy Project ended production in 2018 and was decommissioned in 2020. (Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board - image credit)
The long-running Sable Offshore Energy Project ended production in 2018 and was decommissioned in 2020. (Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board - image credit)

For the fourth year in a row, no new licences will be issued for exploring Nova Scotia's offshore for oil and gas.

The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board issued a call for bids in May for exploration of two parcels in the southwestern Scotian Slope. The call was open for six months and the board received no bids.

Calls for offshore petroleum exploration are made annually, but last year's call was vetoed by the federal and Nova Scotia governments.

There were no bids made for offshore exploration in 2019, and there was no call in 2018 as the province embarked on an offshore promotional strategy.

The oil and gas sector saw a downturn globally in 2020, but it started slowing in Nova Scotia even before that.

In 2017, Shell Canada capped two exploratory wells in the Shelburne Basin. The following year, all exploration off Nova Scotia's coasts dried up after the Hess Corporation, in partnership with BP Canada and the Scotian Basin Exploration Project, sealed a well that failed to return any commercially viable resources.

Sable decommissioning complete

Also in 2018, ExxonMobil ended production at its Sable offshore natural gas project after nearly 20 years in operation. The company finished decommissioning the site in 2020 and is now wrapping up its "post abandonment monitoring," a spokesperson told CBC by email.

SBM Offshore
SBM Offshore

Petroleum producers in traditionally energy-rich Alberta started to record a rebound this year as gas prices have surged, but what the future holds for the sector in Nova Scotia remains uncertain.

There are three active exploration licences for the offshore but a board spokesperson said no applications have been made for seismic surveying or drilling.

Whether there will be a call for bids in 2022 will depend on whether anyone nominates Crown land parcels for exploration. The deadline for nominations is in December.

Province continues to court industry

Since 2018, Nova Scotia has been conducting geoscience research as part of an offshore growth strategy, with $11.8 million budgeted to complete the work.

A spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables said that work is expected to continue into 2023 after a one-year extension because of pandemic-related delays.

The department held virtual seminars and meetings this year for parties interested in the latest offshore bid.

Public opposition

For a two-month period after this year's call opened, the board invited written comments from the public. Forty-one responses were filed by individuals and organizations, overwhelmingly in opposition to offshore exploration. Many asked for the call to be rescinded because of concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and risks to marine ecosystems.

The Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative responded to say that the proposed exploration would "clearly ... impact traditional and current use fishing activities," in LFA 41 and would require consultation.

Pleas to end offshore exploration were also heard at Province House last week during public presentations on the government's new marquee piece of environmental legislation. The NDP later proposed an amendment to the bill to end all new calls for offshore petroleum exploration, which the PC government dismissed.

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