Canadian oil platform operator HMDC pleads guilty over spill in 2019

The Hibernia Management and Development Company (HMDC), an oil company in part owned by ExxonMobil Canada, Chevron Canada Resources, and Suncor, has reached a settlement with Canadian regulators after an oil pollution incident in July 2019 from a platform off St. John’s, Newfoundland. HMDC is pleading guilty to a charge of failing to stop work, thus causing pollution. It will pay fines and penalties totalling C$400,000 (US$300,000).

The Hibernia Platform lies 195 miles east of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Avalon Peninsula. It runs down through 260ft of water to its seabed base.

Charges had been filed in August 2022 by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, an independent regulator of petroleum activities in the region. The incident released an estimated 12,000 litres of a crude oil and water mixture into the Atlantic Ocean.

At the time the regulators expressed concern with the operating procedures at the platform. They felt there had been a possible delay in shutting down operations after a leak had been detected.

On July 17th 2019 a portion of crude oil and water was unexpectedly discharged into the ocean via the deballast system, while the platform was in production. An alarm sounded shortly after midnight and an operator responded within about eight minutes, halting the displacement of fluid from the affected cell into the deballast water system. The alarm level continued for four hours, with the control room receiving reports of oil on the ocean surface shortly before 07:00. Production continued until after 17:00 when a controlled shutdown began.

Overflights of the platform by the regulators initially spotted an oil slick estimated to be nearly three miles wide at one point. The following day they reported locating two smaller slicks.

The Hibernia Platform was permitted to resume production on August 15th, but on August 17th there was a second incident when an estimated 2,184 litres of oil leaked into the sea. A subsequent report showed that this incident was due to a loss of power on a generator. At the time the other generator was offline for maintenance. A fire suppression deluge system was activated inadvertently, which caused drains to overflow and as a result a leak into the sea.

HMDC undertook a range of corrective actions, which included procedural changes, training, and a certifying authority review. As a result the regulators approved a restart plan on September 26th 2019.

For the August discharge the regulators initially issued a notice of violation for C$40,000 but it was reduced to C$28,000 in April 2022. However, after an extensive investigation, three charges were brought in August 2022 . These included failing to shut down operations as quickly as possible, failing to follow the prescribed procedures for managing risk, and for the oil spill itself.

HMDC initially in January 2023 entered a plea of not guilty to the charges, and negotiations commenced.

In addition to pleading guilty to the single offence related to failing to cease work causing the pollution, HMDC will pay C$90,000 as a fine. A further C$310,000 will be paid into an Environmental Damages Fund. HMDC said it regretted the incident. It noted that it had taken action to address the lessons learned.