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Environmental Assessment Report — CNOOC International Flemish Pass Exploration Drilling Project

Environmental Assessment Report

December 2019

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

Catalogue No: En106-224/2019E-PDF

ISBN: 978-0-660-33005-1

This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part for non-commercial purposes, and in any format, without charge or further permission. Unless otherwise specified, you may not reproduce materials, in whole or in part, for the purpose of commercial redistribution without prior written permission from the Impact Assessment Agency, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H3 or ceaa.information.acee@canada.ca

This document has been issued in French under the title: Projet de forage exploratoire dans la passe Flamande - CNOOC International

Executive Summary

CNOOC Petroleum North America ULC (the proponent) is proposing to conduct an offshore exploration drilling program within offshore exploration licences located in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. The CNOOC International Flemish Pass Exploration Drilling Project (the Project) would involve drilling in two exploration licences (1144 and 1150) in the Flemish Pass. The closest licence is located approximately 400 kilometres east of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. Between 2020 and 2028, the proponent could drill up to ten offshore wells.

A single mobile offshore drilling unit would be used, along with supply vessels and helicopters that would travel between the drilling areas and existing shore-based facilities on the island of Newfoundland and the airport in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Project would require authorization under the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Act. Authorization under the Fisheries Act may also be required and a permit under the Species at Risk Act may be required for effects on species that are listed as endangered or threatened on Schedule 1 of that Act.

The Impact Assessment Agency (the Agency) conducted a federal environmental assessment (EA) of the Project under the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012). The Project is subject to CEAA 2012 as it would involve activities that are described in item 10 of the Schedule to the Regulations Designating Physical Activities of CEAA 2012:

The drilling, testing, and abandonment of offshore exploratory wells in the first drilling program in an area set out in one or more exploration licences issued in accordance with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Act or the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act.

On August 28, 2019, the Impact Assessment Act (IAA) came into force and CEAA 2012 was repealed. However, in accordance with the transitional provisions of the IAA, the EA of this Project is being continued under CEAA 2012 as if that Act had not been repealed.

This EA Report provides a summary and the main findings of the federal EA. The Agency prepared the report in consultation with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Transport Canada following a technical review of the proponent's Environmental Impact Statement and an evaluation of the potential environmental effects of the Project. The Agency also considered the views of Indigenous peoples and the general public.

The EA focused on features of the natural and human environment that may be adversely affected by the Project and that are within federal jurisdiction as described in subsection 5(1) of CEAA 2012 and on changes that may be caused in the environment that are directly linked or necessarily incidental to federal authorizations as described in subsection 5(2) of CEAA 2012. These are referred to as valued components. The Agency selected the following valued components for this EA:

  • fish and fish habitat (including marine plants);
  • marine mammal and sea turtles;
  • migratory birds;
  • species at risk;
  • special areas;
  • commercial fisheries; and
  • current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and health socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples.

During the EA, Indigenous groups and members of the public who submitted comments raised concerns about the Project's potential routine and accidental effects on the marine environment (e.g., marine mammals, fish, birds, special areas), commercial fishing and on related effects on Indigenous peoples and communities.

Notable potential environmental effects of the Project's routine operations include:

  • effects on fish and fish habitat caused by the discharge of used drilling muds and cuttings to the marine environment;
  • effects on marine mammals, fish and sea turtles caused by underwater sound from operation of the mobile offshore drilling unit and support vessels and from vertical seismic profiling surveys;
  • effects on migratory birds caused by lights on the mobile offshore drilling unit and supply vessels and, if well testing is required, flaring; and
  • interference with commercial fisheries, Indigenous or otherwise, including effects on fishing activity that may be caused by the need to avoid the safety exclusion zone around drilling operations.

The proponent's project planning and design incorporates measures to mitigate the adverse effects of the Project. These include adherence to existing guidelines and regulations and planning to identify, control and monitor environmental risks.

Accidents and malfunctions could occur during exploration drilling and cause adverse environmental effects. These accidents and malfunctions include batch fuel (diesel) spills, batch spills of synthetic-based drilling fluid (also referred to as drilling mud) and subsea hydrocarbon releases (blowouts). Oil spill fate and trajectory modelling and analyses were performed to help evaluate potential effects of accidental spills and to assist in spill response planning.

Historically, the incidence of large oil spills during exploration drilling is extremely low. The proponent proposed design measures, operational procedures and dedicated resources to prevent and respond to spills of any size from the Project. The proponent stated that in the unlikely event of a subsea hydrocarbon release, response measures would be undertaken in a safe, prompt and coordinated manner. These response measures could include containment, application of dispersants, mechanical recovery and shoreline protection operations, as applicable. To minimize response times, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board would require submission of a Well Capping and Containment Plan that explores options to reduce response times.

The Agency identified key mitigation measures and follow-up program requirements for consideration by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change in establishing conditions as part of a CEAA 2012 decision statement, in the event the Project is ultimately permitted to proceed. Given the current and potential expansion of activity of the offshore oil and gas sector in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore area, the Agency is of the view that information gathered through the implementation of these conditions be presented and shared with industry, Indigenous groups, stakeholders and other interested parties. In addition to the Project, there are a number of other offshore exploration drilling projects and related activities being proposed for the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore area, including a regional assessment currently being led by the Agency.

The Project's possible effects on potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights were also examined. One of the primary concerns raised by Indigenous groups during the EA for the Project, as well as previous offshore exploration drilling projects, is the potential effects of routine operations and accidental events on Atlantic Salmon. Atlantic Salmon have significant importance to Indigenous cultures and populations of salmon have experienced declines in recent decades, with some populations classified as endangered or threatened. Recognizing the data gaps in Atlantic Salmon migration, and by extension the potential effects on the species from offshore exploration drilling, in May 2019 the Environmental Studies Research Fund issued a call for proposals for studies related to Atlantic Salmon. The Environmental Studies Research Fund is funded through levies paid by interest holders such as oil and gas companies and is directed by a joint government/industry/public management board. Indigenous groups also raised concerns about the potential effects of large-scale spills on fishing for commercial or traditional purposes and associated socioeconomic and health effects. The Agency is of the opinion that the recommended measures to mitigate potential environmental effects on fish and fish habitat and commercial fisheries, and to prevent or reduce the effects of accidents and malfunctions, are appropriate measures to accommodate for potential impacts on rights.

The Agency concludes that the CNOOC International Flemish Pass Exploration Drilling Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, taking into account the implementation of mitigation measures.

Contents

List of Tables

List of Figures

List of Abbreviations and Acronyms

Agency
Impact Assessment Agency of Canada
CEAA 2012
Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012
C-NLOPB
Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board
COSEWIC
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada
DFO
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
EA Report
Environmental Assessment Report
EA
Environmental Assessment
ECCC
Environment and Climate Change Canada
EIS
Environmental Impact Statement
EIS Guidelines
Guidelines for the Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement
ESRF
Environmental Studies Research Fund
IAA
Impact Assessment Act
KMKNO
Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office
MARPOL
International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships
MFN
Miawpukek First Nation
MMS
Mi'gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat
MODU
Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit
MTI
Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Incorporated
NAFO
Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization
NRCan
Natural Resources Canada
Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines
Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines for Drilling and Production Activities on Frontier Lands
Project
CNOOC International Flemish Pass Exploration Drilling Project
Proponent
CNOOC Petroleum North America ULC
VSP
Vertical Seismic Profiling
WNNB
Wolastoqey Nation of New Brunswick

Glossary

Abandonment
The process of securing a drilled well in a manner that allows it to be left indefinitely without further attention, and which prevents movement of petroleum (or potential petroleum) from its reservoir to another subsurface formation or to the environment.Footnote 1
Blowout preventer
An apparatus affixed to the top of a wellhead during drilling operations that contains high-pressure wellhead valves designed to shut off the uncontrolled flow of reservoir fluids to the environment in a case where a loss of well control has been experienced.Footnote 1
Cuttings
Chips and small fragments of rock produced by drilling that are circulated up from the drill bit to the surface by drilling mud.Footnote 1
Delineation well
Well drilled after a discovery well to determine the areal extent of a reservoir.Footnote 1
Exploratory well
A well in an area where petroleum has not been previously found or one targeted for formations above or below known reservoirs.Footnote 1
Formation
The term for the primary unit in stratigraphy consisting of a succession of strata useful for mapping or description which possesses certain distinctive lithologic and other features.Footnote 1
Mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU)
A drillship, semi-submersible drilling unit, jack-up drilling unit or other floating or fixed structure used in a drilling program and fitted with a drilling rig, and includes the drilling rig and other facilities and equipment necessary for drilling of wells for petroleum exploration or development.Footnote 1
Produced water
Water associated with formation fluids in petroleum reservoirs that is produced along with oil and gas.Footnote 1
Reservoir
A subsurface body of rock having sufficient porosity and permeability to store and transmit fluids and which contains petroleum.Footnote 1, Footnote 2
Suspended well
A well in which drilling operations have temporarily ceased.Footnote 1
Synthetic-based mud
A drilling mud in which the continuous phase is a synthetic fluid that should have a total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon concentration of less than 10 milligrams per kilogram, be relatively nontoxic in marine environments and have the potential to biodegrade under aerobic conditions.Footnote 1
Water-based mud
A drilling fluid in which fresh or salt water is the continuous phase as well as the wetting (external) phase whether oil is present or not.Footnote 1, Footnote 2
Wellbore
The hole that would be drilled as part of the exploration drilling activities.Footnote 2
Wellhead
During drilling, the location at the top of the surface casing where the blowout preventer connects to the well to provide fluid and pressure containment for drilling activities.Footnote 1

References

Footnote 1

Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board

Return to footnote 1 referrer

Footnote 2

Schlumberger Limited (https://www.glossary.oilfield.slb.com/)

Return to footnote 2 referrer

1. Introduction

CNOOC Petroleum North America ULC (the proponent), formerly known as Nexen Energy ULC, is proposing to conduct an exploration drilling project within two offshore exploration licences, exploration licences 1144 and 1150, located in the Flemish Pass approximately 400 kilometres east of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. The purpose of the CNOOC International Flemish Pass Exploration Drilling Project (the Project) is to determine the presence, nature and volume of potential hydrocarbon resources within the exploration licences.

The proponent has indicated that exploration drilling is a critical activity to enable continued oil and gas discoveries to maintain production and meet global demand for energy.

The proponent plans to drill up to ten wells throughout the life of the Project, which is anticipated to operate until 2028.

1.1. Purpose of the Environmental Assessment Report

The purpose of the Environmental Assessment (EA) Report is to provide a summary of the analysis conducted by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (the Agency) in reaching its conclusion on whether the Project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects after taking into account the proposed mitigation measures (Appendix A). The Minister of Environment and Climate Change will consider this report in making a decision on whether the Project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, following which the Minister will issue an EA decision statement for the Project.

1.2. Scope of the Environmental Assessment

1.2.1. Environmental Assessment Requirements

On August 28, 2019, the Impact Assessment Act (IAA) came into force and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) was repealed. However, in accordance with the transitional provisions of the IAA, the EA of this Project is being continued under CEAA 2012 as if that Act had not been repealed.

The Project is subject to CEAA 2012 as it would involve activities that are described in item 10 of the Schedule to the Regulations Designating Physical Activities of CEAA 2012:

The drilling, testing, and abandonment of offshore exploratory wells in the first drilling program in an area set out in one or more exploration licences issued in accordance with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Act or the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act.

The key dates for the EA of the Project, up to the release of this EA Report, are as follows:

  • April 13, 2017: the proponent submitted a project description to the Agency
  • June 9, 2017: the Agency determined that a federal EA was required
  • June 12, 2017: the EA commenced
  • July 25, 2017: the Agency issued the final Guidelines for the Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS Guidelines) to the proponent
  • February 21, 2018: the proponent submitted the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and EIS Summary

The Agency co-operated with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) during the EA of the Project. The C-NLOPB is an independent joint agency of the Governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador and is responsible for regulation of petroleum activities in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore area. The C-NLOPB also undertakes EAs of petroleum exploration and production works or activities proposed for the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore area. The EA conducted by the Agency is intended to also satisfy the C-NLOPB's EA requirements.

The Project is not subject to Newfoundland and Labrador provincial EA requirements.

1.2.2. Factors Considered in the Environmental Assessment

The Agency issued EIS Guidelines to the proponent that describe the information the proponent had to provide to support the EA process, including the environmental effects and the factors that must be considered. The EIS Guidelines for the Project can be found on the Canadian Impact Assessment Registry Internet site at the following link: https://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/evaluations /document/119511?culture=en-CA

The EIS Guidelines also focus the assessment by identifying components that have particular value or significance and may be affected by the Project. The valued components considered by the Agency and the corresponding valued components selected by the proponent are presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Valued Components Considered by the Agency
Environmental component Included in Agency's analysis? Agency rationale Corresponding valued component selected by the proponent
Effects identified under subsection 5(1) of CEAA2012
Fish and Fish Habitat Yes Included due to the ecological importance and legislated protection of fish and fish habitat, as well as associated species at risk, and the socioeconomic importance of fisheries resources. There is also a high likelihood of project-valued component interactions. Includes corals and sponges. Marine Fish and Fish Habitat (including Species at Risk)
Marine Plants Yes Potential effects on marine plants were included in the Agency's assessment of effects on fish habitat. Marine Fish and Fish Habitat (including Species at Risk)
Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles Yes Included due to the ecological importance and legislated protection of marine mammals, as well as associated species at risk. There is also a high likelihood of project-valued component interactions. Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles (including Species at Risk)
Migratory Birds Yes Included due to the ecological importance and legislated protection of migratory birds, as well as associated species at risk. There is also a high likelihood of project- valued component interactions. Marine and Migratory Birds (including Species at Risk)
Current Use of Lands and Resources for Traditional Purposes and Health and Socioeconomic Conditions of Indigenous Peoples Yes

Migratory species of importance to Indigenous communities (e.g., Atlantic Salmon, some species of migratory birds), may pass through the project area before moving to areas subject to traditional harvesting. Indigenous fisheries or harvesting could also be affected by an accident or malfunction associated with the Project. The contamination (or perception thereof) of fish and seafood in the event of a major spill could affect country food consumption in some Indigenous communities.

Indigenous communal commercial fishing licences overlap with exploration licences included in the Project. These were considered in the Agency's assessment of effects on commercial fishing (below).

Indigenous Peoples
Effects identified under subsection 5(1) of CEAA2012 (continued)
Physical or Cultural Heritage of Indigenous Peoples and Historical, Archaeological, Paleontological or Architectural Sites or Structures of Indigenous Peoples No The exploration licences would be located approximately 400 kilometres offshore. Project activities and components are not anticipated to result in any changes to the environment that would have an effect on physical and cultural heritage. None
Special Areas (Marine) Yes There are several marine special areas that may be affected by the Project. Special Areas
Air Quality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions No

While there are direct emissions of greenhouse gases from the Project, there are no upstream emissions (i.e., emissions from other projects or industrial activities that could occur earlier in the lifecycle of a resource or other product). The Project would be short-term and routine activities would contribute a relatively small amount to provincial totals (i.e., 0.72 to 0.84 percent of Newfoundland and Labrador's average annual emissions). Additional information on greenhouse gases is provided in Section 2.4.

The Project would adhere to applicable regulations and standards, including the Newfoundland and Labrador Air Pollution Control Regulations; the federal National Ambient Air Quality Objectives and the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards; and regulations and emission limits under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). Given its location more than 400 kilometres offshore, the project area is not close to permanent receptors sensitive to atmospheric emissions.

Atmospheric Environment
Effects identified under subsection 5(2) of CEAA2012
Commercial Fisheries Yes The project area overlaps with commercial fishing activity, including potential Indigenous communal commercial fishing, that could be affected by routine operations (e.g., safety exclusion zones) or by accidental events. Fisheries and Other Ocean Uses
Recreational Fisheries No

There is no known recreational fishing activity within the project area which is approximately 400 kilometres offshore from the island of Newfoundland.

There are recreational fisheries in nearshore and coastal waters. Routine project activities and components are not expected to interfere with nearshore recreational fisheries beyond current levels because supply vessels would use existing routes and harbour approaches, avoiding interference with nearshore activities outside the approaches. Nearshore recreational fishing may be affected by accidental events associated with the Project. Measures proposed to mitigate effects on fish and fish habitat and commercial fisheries would mitigate similar environmental effects on recreational fisheries.

Fisheries and Other Ocean Uses
Special Areas (Coastal) Yes There are several coastal areas of importance in the regional study area. These may be affected by the Project in the event of an unmitigated subsea blowout. Special Areas
Human Health No

Other than human presence on mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs), there is intermittent human presence on fishing and other vessels in the exploration licences, which range from 400 to 650 kilometres from land. Therefore, routine project activities would not expose the general public to a health risk. Similarly, the distance from land and anticipated spill trajectories in the event of a large-scale spill offshore would have low potential for shoreline oiling and associated effects on coastal communities and human health.

None
Effects identified under subsection 79(2) of the Species at Risk Act
Federal Species at Risk Yes The Species at Risk Act requires consideration of listed species when conducting an EA under CEAA 2012. The Agency also examined effects on species assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as endangered, threatened or of special concern. The proponent assessed applicable species at risk within their analyses of effects on fish and fish habitat, marine mammals and sea turtles, and migratory birds.

1.2.3. Methods and Approach

In its EIS and EIS Summary, the proponent assessed the Project's effects based on a structured approach that is consistent with accepted practices for conducting EAs and with the Agency's Operational Policy Statement: Determining Whether a Project is Likely to Cause Significant Adverse Environmental Effects under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. The application of mitigation measures was considered in the analysis (see Appendix B for a full list of the proponent's proposed mitigation and follow-up measures) and the predicted residual environmental effects were characterized based on the following assessment criteria:

  • nature/direction of the effect: whether the effect was predicted to be positive, adverse or neutral;
  • magnitude: the degree of change from baseline conditions in the affected area;
  • geographic extent: the spatial area within which the environmental effect would likely occur;
  • duration: the period of time over which the environmental effect would likely be evident;
  • frequency: how often the environmental effect would likely occur; and
  • reversibility: the ability of an environmental component to return to an equal or improved condition once the disturbance(s) has ended.

The proponent also considered the current condition of each environmental component as a result of natural and/or anthropogenic factors, and its resulting resiliency or sensitivity to further change (i.e., ecological/socioeconomic context). The proponent then determined the significance of residual project-related environmental effects based on pre-defined standards or thresholds (i.e., significance rating criteria). It also considered the level of confidence in its environmental effects predictions and proposed mitigation, along with sources of uncertainty, data gaps, issues of reliability, sensitivity and approaches to conservativeness.

The Agency reviewed various sources of information in conducting its analysis, including:

  • the proponent's EIS and EIS Summary;
  • additional information received from the proponent in response to the information requirements issued by the Agency following its review of the EIS;
  • advice from expert departments and agencies, including the C-NLOPB;
  • comments received from the public; and
  • comments received from Indigenous peoples.

The Agency determined the significance of residual effects of routine project operations (Section 6) by taking into account the mitigation measures that it considered necessary. The Agency also considered the effects of accidents and malfunctions that may occur in connection with the Project (Section 7.1), as well as the effects of the environment on the Project (Section 7.2) and cumulative environmental effects (Section 7.3).

The Agency's analysis, including how the Agency incorporated views expressed by Indigenous peoples, the public and expert departments and agencies, is provided throughout this report.

2. Project Overview

2.1. Project Location and Spatial Boundaries of the Environmental Assessment

The Project is located in the Flemish Pass of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, within exploration licences 1144 and 1150, approximately 400 kilometres east of the island of Newfoundland in water depths varying from 330 to 1,200 metres (Figure 1). The exploration licences have a combined area of 3,326square kilometres. Both exploration licences are located on the extended continental shelf outside Canada's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone. Exact drilling locations within the exploration licences have not yet been finalized.

Spatial boundaries of an EA are established to define the area within which a project may interact with the environment and cause environmental effects and may vary among valued components. The proponent defined three types of spatial boundaries for the EA: project area, local study area and regional study area.

Proponent's Project Area

The immediate area within which project activities and components may occur (i.e., the exploration licences) plus a 20-kilometre buffer. The project area has a total area of approximately 10,634 square kilometres. Water depth in the project area ranges from 250 to 1,200metres.

Note: References to the project area throughout this report are consistent with the proponent's definition. However, project activities for the designated project subject to federal EA would be limited to the exploration licences within which exploration drilling could occur as well as the route to and from these exploration licences to the supply base and airport on the island of Newfoundland.

Proponent's Local Study Area

Local study areas were defined for each valued component. The local study areas for marine fish and fish habitat, marine and migratory birds, special areas, Indigenous communities and activities and commercial fisheries and other ocean uses include the project area, the associated support vessel and air transit route and a ten-kilometre buffer around this transit route. The local study area for marine mammals and sea turtles includes the project area and a 150-kilometer buffer around it, and the support vessel and air transit route and a ten-kilometre buffer around this transit route.

Proponent's Regional Study Area

The regional study area considers the possible movement patterns of marine fish, birds, mammals and sea turtles over the time periods and durations for which they may be affected by planned project activities, as well as the distribution and geographic extent of fishing and other human activities surrounding the project area/local study area for regional context purposes. In addition, the regional study area encompasses the predicted zone of influence of a potential oil spill event. The regional study area is consistent for all valued components except for Indigenous peoples and fisheries and other ocean uses. For Indigenous peoples, the regional study area includes an overall region of eastern Canada that generally encompasses each of the Indigenous communities and their activities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, the Maritime Provinces and Quebec. For fisheries and other ocean uses, the regional study area captures the marine waters offshore eastern Newfoundland, namely Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) Divisions 3K, 3L, 3M, 3N and 3O.

Figure 1: Project Area and Associated Licences

Figure 1: Project Area and Associated Licences

Source: CNOOC Petroleum North America ULC

2.2. Project Components and Activities

The Project would include the drilling, testing and abandonment or suspension of up to ten offshore wells within exploration licences 1144 and 1150 and associated incidental activities. The key components and activities that comprise the Project include MODU mobilization, offshore drilling (both exploration drilling and possible delineation drilling), vertical seismic profiling (VSP) surveys, well testing, well abandonment or suspension and associated supply and service activities. The ten wells represent surface (seabed) wellhead locations and not subsurface bottom hole locations which may be associated with sidetracking from the main wellbore.

Logistical support required for the Project, including the MODU, supply vessels and helicopters would be owned by third-party service providers and contracted for use by the proponent. The only new components developed for the Project would be the offshore exploration wells.

2.2.1. Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit Mobilization

Once the well site is selected, the MODU, either a semi-submersible or drill ship, would be towed or self-propelled to the well site and held in position by either a dynamic positioning system or by anchors. With the MODU in place a safety exclusion zone would be defined, maintained and monitored by a standby support vessel and publicized through Notice to Mariners. The safety exclusion zone is usually the greater of either the area within a 500-metre radius of the MODU or, if anchored, a zone of 50metres from the anchor pattern. Prior to the start of drilling, a visual well site seabed investigation survey would be conducted using a remotely operated vehicle, sonar (multi-beam or side scan) or other equipment deployed from the MODU or support vessel.

2.2.2. Offshore Well Drilling

Each exploration or delineation well would be drilled over several months in sections that gradually reduce in size. After each section is drilled, steel pipe or casing is installed and cemented into place to stabilize the well bore, isolate pressure/fluids and prevent drilling fluid losses prior to drilling the next hole section. For the first two to three hole sections there is no closed-loop circulating system in place (riserless drilling). During this portion of drilling, the drilling fluids and cuttings are deposited onto the seabed. Typically, seawater and/or water-based mud is used during the drilling of these riserless hole sections.

Once the riser is installed, the remainder of the hole sections may be drilled with water-based mud or synthetic-based mud. The riser creates a conduit for the circulation of these drilling fluids down the drill string and then for the fluids and associated drill cuttings to be transpored back up to the MODU for treatment. Treatment typically involves separating the drill cuttings from the drilling fluid. The majority of the drilling fluid would be reconditioned and reused, while any spent synthetic-based mud would be returned to shore for disposal or recycling. Following treatment, a small and permitable portion of the synthetic-based mud may remain in the drill cuttings and be discharged.

The proponent may completely drill one well at a time or if the plan involves drilling multiple close proximity wells with similar well designs, it may consider "batch drilling." For batch drilling, the riserless sections for multiple wells are initially and consecutively drilled and then the MODU returns to these sites to complete the remaining portions of the wells. Based on early well information and spatial considerations, the predicted minimum estimated distance between potential wells would be six kilometres.

The proponent has indicated that it is not planning to conduct simultaneous drilling with more than one MODU given the regulatory requirements for individual MODU certification and the planned scope of the exploratory drilling program.

2.2.3. Vertical Seismic Profiling

VSP is used to get higher levels of accuracy in defining the geological features and potential petroleum reserves by obtaining high resolution images of the target. VSP surveys are conducted by placing a string of receivers (geophones) down the well at pre-determined depths, with a seismic source (usually mid-sized sound source arrays) suspended from the MODU or on a vessel. VSP surveys are typically short-term activities (one to two days duration), with seismic source activation often limited to just a few hours. VSP surveys are quieter and more localized than a surface seismic survey, as they are conducted using hydrophones inside a vertical wellbore and a smaller sound source near the surface at or near the well.

2.2.4. Well Testing

Wireline logging would be used to characterize the reservoir properties to understand the composition and heterogeneity of the reservoir and predict the distribution of the porosity, permeability and saturation. Wireline logging would be conducted with wireline logging tools provided by a third-party contractor.

If there is an indication of commercial hydrocarbons at an exploration well, a well flow test may be conducted (also sometimes referred to as a formation flow test). A well flow test involves the flowing of well fluids from the reservoir to gather additional information on the potential reservoir properties, such as productivity, volumes, fluid composition, flow rate, pressure and temperature. Well flow testing is required by the Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Drilling and Production Regulations, prior to obtaining a Significant Discovery Licence from the C-NLOPB. The duration of well flow testing is typically in the order of several days.

During well flow testing, produced fluid is flowed back to the MODU, where hydrocarbons are separated from any produced water and samples are analyzed. Produced hydrocarbons are flared using high-efficiency burners supplied by a third-party. If technically feasible, produced water would be flared with the hydrocarbons. If the volume of produced water exceeds the technical capabilities of selected flare burners, produced water would be treated in accordance with the relevant regulatory requirements prior to ocean discharge. Any flaring activities would be kept to a minimum.

A well flow test may also be carried out using alternative technologies such as a drill pipe conveyed test assembly. In such cases, the hydrocarbons are circulated to surface and recovered with no requirement to flare oil or produced water (see Section 3 for a discussion of alternative means of carrying out the Project).

2.2.5. Well Abandonment or Suspension

Once drilling and any associated well testing is completed, offshore exploration and delineation wells are typically permanently abandoned, or in some cases, temporarily suspended. The well abandonment approach for the Project has not been finalized but would adhere to the requirements set out under the Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Drilling and Production Regulations, as well as the proponent's internal governance.

Abandonment or suspension involves the isolation of the well bore by placing cement plugs, in combination with mechanical devices, at various depths. Wells would be abandoned or suspended with a minimum of two barriers in place. In the event that the well is suspended, the casing/wellhead would be left in place for future use. Alternatively, the wellhead may be abandoned and would remain in place on the seabed, in which case the wellhead position would be reported to Canadian Hydrographic Services so nautical charts could be updated. The lifespan of abandonment measures is intended to be infinite. If a wellhead were to be cut and abandoned above the seafloor, the planned maximum height of wellhead remaining above the seafloor would be 0.85 metres. Removal of sections of the casing or wellhead would be completed via mechanical separation (i.e., cutting), as opposed to with the use of explosives. A remotely operated vehicle or other equipment would be used to inspect the seabed to ensure that no equipment or obstructions remain in place. Abandoned or suspended wells would be monitored and inspected in accordance with applicable regulatory requirements.

2.2.6. Supply and Servicing

Offshore drilling activities would be supported by a number of logistical and supporting activities.

Onshore Supply Base

One or more existing facilities in eastern Newfoundland would provide re-fueling, temporary storage, staging and loading of materials and supplies to support offshore exploration activities. The onshore supply base for most previous and existing offshore operations has been located in St. John's, and although no final decision has been made, at this time for the purposes of the EA, the proponent has proposed using these existing facilities. The existing shore-based facilities are owned and operated by independent third-party service providers.

Supply Vessels

Marine vessels are used to transport personnel, equipment and other materials to and from the MODU during an offshore exploration program. As well, a dedicated stand-by vessel would attend to the MODU throughout the drilling. These services would be procured from existing, established third-party suppliers.

Unless they are avoiding other activities or ice, supply vessels would travel directly between an established port facility in St. John's and the MODU. It is anticipated that with a single operating MODU there would be two to three return transits per week by supply vessels during the course of the Project.

Aircraft

Helicopters would be used for the transportation of personnel and key materials to and from the MODU as required throughout the course of the Project. Aircraft support would be supplied by a third-party licensed operator under contract to the proponent at St. John's International Airport. It is estimated that there would be one to three helicopter transits per day to the MODU.

2.3. Emissions and Waste Management

Potential environmental emissions and discharges associated with offshore exploration drilling programs include noise, light and other atmospheric emissions as well as discharges of waste such as drilling fluids, drill cuttings, cement, blowout preventer fluid, produced water, bilge/deck water, ballast water, grey/black water, cooling water, other non-routine operational liquid discharges, solid and hazardous wastes associated with the MODU, supply vessels and aircraft.

Any chemicals used would adhere to the C-NLOPB requirements under the Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines for Drilling and Production Activities on Frontier Lands (the Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines). The proponent would prepare a chemical screening and management plan in accordance with those guidelines, which would be developed as part of the supporting documentation for the Operations Authorization application to the C-NLOPB. Furthermore, any discharges to the environment would adhere to the C-NLOPB requirements under the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines, which may involve treatment of discharges prior to release. In addition to these two guidelines, there are other existing regulations and guidelines that pertain to environmental emissions and waste materials associated with offshore exploration activities, including:

  • Newfoundland and Labrador Management of Greenhouse Gas Act;
  • International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL);
  • Environmental Protection Plan Guidelines;
  • Drilling and Production Guidelines;
  • Fisheries Act;
  • Canadian Environmental Protection Act;
  • Oceans Act; and
  • Canada Shipping Act, 2001.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

During offshore exploration drilling, routine and non-routine activities would result in emissions of greenhouse gases. Routine activities contributing to greenhouse gas emissions include exhaust from the MODU, supply vessels and aircraft and their associated equipment (such as on-board power generators), as well as emissions from the flaring of hydrocarbons associated with well testing as required. Greenhouse gas emissions, including emissions associated with potential flaring during formation flow testing, are estimated in Table 2.

Table 2: Estimated Project Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Activity
Project Component/Activity Greenhouse Gas Emissions (tonnes)
Carbon Dioxide Methane Nitrous Oxide Total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions
MODU*

467 415 (SS)

582032 (DS)

23 (SS)

29 (DS)

70 (SS)

92 (DS)

486670 (SS)

607236 (DS)

Supply Vessel 164244 8 25 171093
Helicopter 8727 0 1 8944
Well Testing 31 889 5 5 33 254
Total

672275 (SS)

786892 (DS)

37 (SS)

43 (DS)

101 (SS)

122 (DS)

699 961 (SS)

820 527 (DS)

*SS = semi-submersible, DS = drillship

The overall greenhouse gas emissions over the Project are estimated to be between approximately 700000 and 820000 tonnes of total carbon dioxide equivalent (annual average between approximately 77780 and 91180 tonnes of total carbon dioxide equivalent annually). This would represent between approximately 0.72 and 0.84 percent of Newfoundland and Labrador's average annual greenhouse gas emissions, based on 2016 emissions in that province, and approximately 0.01 percent of Canada's annual emissions, based on 2016 emissions nationally. Industrial facilities that emit more than 10000tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year are required to quantify and report greenhouse gas emissions to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC,2018).

2.4. Schedule

The proponent's planned temporal scope for the Project is from 2020 to 2028 but drilling activities would not be continuous over this period. Project activities would be aligned with the exploration licence periods and would end once regulatory obligations and commitments have been met and a licence has either reverted back to the C-NLOPB or been converted to a Significant Discovery Licence. In-field project activity could commence as early as 2020.

It is expected that each well would require approximately 45 to 160 days for drilling, evaluation and well abandonment or suspension. The specific nature and timing of each project phase and activity within each year of the program would continue to evolve and become further defined as planning and implementation progress.

3. Alternative Means of Carrying out the Project

CEAA 2012 requires that EAs of designated projects take into account alternative means of carrying out the project that are technically and economically feasible and the environmental effects of any such alternative means. The proponent identified and evaluated alternatives for the following aspects of the Project: drilling fluids selection, MODU selection, drilling waste management, offshore lighting and well testing and flaring.

Drilling Fluids Selection

Water-based muds and synthetic-based muds were both identified as technically and economically feasible at different project stages, and acceptable under current regulatory regimes. The proponent indicated water-based mud would be used during initial drilling when the riser is not in place, as it is technically inferior in deeper sections of the well; synthetic-based mud is likely to be used at deeper well sections, when the riser is installed as it is technically superior for deeper well sections where it offers better drilling performance, stability and well control.

Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit Selection

Three types of MODUs are typically used in drilling offshore wells in Atlantic Canada: semi-submersibles, drill ships and jack-up rigs. Feasibility and selection of the MODU is well-specific and based on physical environmental conditions, including water depth, required drilling depth and expected weather and ice conditions and associated mobility requirements. Based on water depth and environmental conditions, the proponent stated that a jack-up MODU is not considered technically feasible for this Project. The Project would be conducted using either a semi-submersible or drill ship MODU and selection would be based on an evaluation of specific well site conditions and proponent requirements.

Drilling Waste Management

Three potential options were considered related to the management of drilling waste: disposal at sea, shipping waste to shore and reinjection. Reinjection of drilling waste into a dedicated well is not considered economically or technically feasible for exploration drilling activities in Atlantic Canada. For the disposal of synthetic-based mud associated drill cuttings, while shipping to shore is considered technically feasible, due to increased transportation cost, operational delays, health and safety considerations, as well as the lack of a treatment facility in Newfoundland, ship-to-shore is not a preferred option. Discharge to the water column following treatment, as per existing applicable guidelines and regulatory requirements, was identified as the preferred option because it is considered non-toxic but with some localized seabed effects and is technically and economically feasible.

Offshore Lighting

Three potential options were considered related to lighting: no lighting or limited lighting, standard lighting and spectral modified lighting. No or limited lighting were considered unfeasible alternatives due to operational and safety concerns. Spectral modified lighting has not been proven to be technically or economically feasible, and there are safety concerns with some types of spectral lighting in certain conditions. In addition, use is restricted by commercial availability and cost. As such, standard lighting was identified as the preferred option. The proponent indicated that lighting would be minimized to the greatest extent possible, without compromising safe operations.

Well Testing and Flaring

Flaring is generally required during well flow testing to safely and efficiently dispose of hydrocarbons that may come to the surface and as such, not flaring is not considered to be a feasible option if such tests are required. During standard well flow tests, flaring may last one to three days per flow testing period. Once well testing begins, it is impossible to avoid nighttime flaring and it is necessary to complete the test in order to avoid negatively affecting the test results.

There are alternative well flow testing technologies with the potential for improved safety and environmental performance that could be implemented for the Project. The proponent may use alternative testing technologies that meet the C-NLOPB's requirements as they become available, such as using a drill pipe conveyed test assembly. In such cases, the hydrocarbons are circulated to surface and recovered without the requirement to flare oil or produced water. There are several factors that would need to be considered to determine if a proposed alternative testing technology is suitable for a specific well, including:

  • the properties of the reservoir, the data to be collected, any C-NLOPB requirements, and the suitability of the alternative technology to complete the test and meet any requirements;
  • the availability of the technology within the project timeline;
  • the economic viability, technical feasibility, and benefits and limitations of using the alternative technology; and
  • proposed proprietary technologies (e.g., formation flow testing while tripping), including the logistical, technical, economic and time requirements for use.

Ultimately, the C-NLOPB would determine the required methods of well testing to validate the presence of hydrocarbons. Additional measures to minimize potential effects of flaring can be found in Section6.3.

3.1. Views Expressed

Views expressed by federal authorities, Indigenous groups or the public related to alternative means of carrying out the Project were directly linked to potential effects on valued components of the identified alternatives and differences between these predicted effects. These views are outlined in Section 6, as appropriate.

3.2. Agency Analysis and Conclusion

The Agency is satisfied that the proponent adequately assessed alternative means of carrying out the Project.

4. Consultation Activities

4.1. Crown Consultation with Indigenous Peoples

The Crown has a duty to consult Indigenous peoples in Canada, and to accommodate where appropriate, when its proposed conduct might adversely impact a potential or established Aboriginal or treaty right. Indigenous consultation is also undertaken more broadly to aid good governance, sound policy development and decision-making. For example, in certain instances there may not be a constitutional duty to consult but the Agency may decide to engage with Indigenous groups for policy reasons.

4.1.1. Indigenous Consultation Led by the Agency

The Agency served as Crown Consultation Coordinator for a whole-of-government approach to consultation. The Agency consulted communities and groups that hold communal commercial fishing licences in NAFO areas that overlap the project area, local study area and regional study area, or portions of them, or hold licences for species that migrate through the project area such as swordfish. In addition, the Agency consulted communities that fish for and have an interest in certain Atlantic Salmon populations, a species which could potentially be affected by the Project. The following communities were consulted:

  • Labrador Inuit: Nunatsiavut Government, NunatuKavut Community Council
  • Labrador Innu: Innu Nation
  • Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq First Nations: Acadia, Annapolis Valley, Bear River, Eskasoni, Glooscap, Membertou, Millbrook, Paqtnkek (Afton), Pictou Landing, Potlotek (Chapel Island), Sipekne'katik, Wagmatcook, and We'kmoqma'q (Waycobah)
  • New Brunswick Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) First Nations: Kingsclear, Madawaska Maliseet, Oromocto, St. Mary's, Tobique, and Woodstock
  • New Brunswick Mi'gmaq First Nations: Buctouche, Eel River Bar, Fort Folly, Esgenoopetitj, Indian Island, Pabineau, Eel Ground, Metepenagiag, and Elsipogtog
  • New Brunswick Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik (Passamaquoddy)
  • Prince Edward Island Mi'kmaq First Nations: Abegweit and Lennox Island
  • Quebec Mi'gmaq: Micmacs of Gespapegiag, Nation Micmac de Gespeg, and Listuguj Mi'gmaq Government
  • Quebec Innu: Innus de Ekuanitshit and Première Nation de Nutashkuan

Several groups are represented in consultation by aggregate organizations including:

  • Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO) represents the Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq First Nations in consultation with the exception of Millbrook and Sipekne'katik First Nations.
  • Wolastoqey Nation of New Brunswick (WNNB) represents the New Brunswick Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) First Nations in consultation. Woodstock First Nation was being consulted separately until the community joined WNNB in March 2019.
  • Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Incorporated (MTI) represents the New Brunswick Mi'gmaq First Nations in consultation with the exception of Elsipogtog First Nation.
  • Mi'kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island represents the Prince Edward Island Mi'kmaq First Nations in consultation.
  • Mi'gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat (MMS) represents the Quebec Mi'gmaq in consultation.

The Agency made a determination that the depth of consultation with these Indigenous groups would be low on the consultation spectrum based on an analysis of Section 35 Rights and the potential for adverse effects on these rights from the Project.footnote 1 It provided this analysis to Indigenous groups, along with draft consultation plans, and requested feedback on the plans. Comments were received on the plan and the determination of depth of the consultation.

The Agency also contacted the Qalipu First Nation and Miawpukek First Nation (MFN), which were being engaged for the purposes of good governance, and provided them with information on the Project and opportunities to submit comments.

The Agency integrated the Crown's consultation and engagement activities into the EA and invited Indigenous groups to review and comment on the documents listed in Table 3.

Table 3: Comment Opportunities during the Environmental Assessment
Document or Subject of Consultation Dates
Summary of the Project Description April 25, 2017 – May 17, 2017 (20 days)
Draft EIS Guidelines June 12, 2017 – July 12, 2017 (30 days)
EIS Summary April 4, 2018 – May 4, 2018 (30 days)
Draft EA Report and Potential Conditions September 25, 2019 – October 25, 2019 (30 days)

The Agency considered comments received from Indigenous groups following their reviews of the EIS and associated summary and asked the proponent to provide additional information on a number of topics. Indigenous groups were provided an opportunity to review and comment on the additional information, as applicable.

In addition to opportunities to review and comment on the documents listed above, the Agency organized four information sessions in October 2017 that provided information about the Agency and four proposed offshore exploration drilling projects subject to federal EA, including this Project. The Agency invited feedback on how the Agency could help facilitate participation in the EA, and on the potential environmental effects of the Project and potential impacts to Section 35 Rights.

The Agency also organized three workshops in April 2018 to build relationships between Indigenous groups, proponents and government; provide an overview of offshore drilling projects; and identify and address concerns from Indigenous groups. Proponents were invited to participate in the Agency's April 2018 workshops so they could provide information and answer questions about their projects.

The Agency maintained contact with Indigenous groups throughout the EA with general meetings with Indigenous Consultation Coordinators and periodic emails to verify that participants were aware of the EA process as it advanced, respond to questions and discuss comments.

The main areas of concern raised by Indigenous peoples included:

  • salmon and potential interactions with the Project;
  • effects on fish and fish habitat;
  • effects on fishing for communal commercial and food, social or ceremonial purposes, including related socioeconomic and health effects;
  • effects of accidents and malfunctions, including the use of dispersants in oil spill response;
  • effects on migratory birds;
  • compensation in the event of damages from normal operation or due to accidents and malfunctions; and
  • cumulative effects.

Appendix C contains a summary of comments provided to date by Indigenous peoples, along with the proponent's and Agency's responses. A subset of comments are also discussed in the context of individual valued components throughout Sections 6 and 7.

The Agency supported the participation and consultation of Indigenous groups during the EA through its Participant Funding Program. Funding was made available to assist in reviewing and providing comments on the EIS summary, the draft EA Report and potential EA conditions. In total, the Agency allocated $206,525 to 11 Indigenous communities and aggregate organizations.

4.1.2. The Proponent's Indigenous Engagement Activities

The proponent engaged with 41 Indigenous groups located in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Quebec. Early engagement began in March 2017 with the Nunatsiavut Government, the Labrador Innu Nation, the NunatuKavut Community Council, Qalipu Mi'kmaq Nation Band and MFN. Based on direction from the Agency, in July 2017, the proponent began engaging an additional 36 Indigenous groups in the Maritime Provinces and Quebec. Engagement methods included phone calls, emails and reports. The proponent also participated in the three workshops organized by the Agency in April 2018 and organized additional workshops in October 2018, in which the Agency and proponents of other offshore exploratory drilling projects also participated. The proponent stated that they would continue to communicate with Indigenous groups as required and requested.

4.2. Public Participation

4.2.1. Public Participation Led by the Agency

The Agency provided four opportunities for the public to participate in the EA (these were the same as those listed in Table 3 above). These opportunities were publicised through print, radio, and online advertisements and notifications, and included instruction on how to contact the Agency. Documents were made available online and were also available in hard copy upon request.

In response to the public notice during the comment period on the EIS Summary, submissions were received from the Fish, Food and Allied Workers' Union and the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil & Gas Industries Association.

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers' Union provided information on the nature and importance of the fishing industry and traditional knowledge, and raised concerns related to potential effects of the Project on commercial fisheries, including related socioeconomic effects, oil spills, marine conservation and cumulative effects. The Newfoundland and Labrador Oil & Gas Industries Association indicated its support for the Project, suggested consideration of the Eastern Newfoundland Strategic Environmental Assessment Report, provided information on the availability of data, commented on the spatial extent and location of the Project and highlighted the economic importance of the offshore oil and gas sector.

The Agency made funding available through its Participant Funding Program to support the public in reviewing and providing comments. Through this program, $12,300 was allocated to one public organization to reimburse eligible expenses related to their participation in the EA.

4.2.2. Public Participation Activities by the Proponent

The proponent engaged with groups representing various stakeholders that have historically been engaged in or have an interest in offshore oil and gas operations in Newfoundland and Labrador. This included representatives from the oil and gas industry, fishing industry, Indigenous communities, environmental non-government organizations and other oil and gas operators participating in exploration or production activities in offshore Newfoundland and Labrador.

The proponent conducted engagement efforts for the EIS from May 2016 until January 2018. The proponent used a variety of engagement methods including face-to-face meetings, telephone conversations and written correspondence.

4.3. Participation of Federal Government Experts

Federal departments and agencies with specialist information and expert knowledge relevant to the Project supported the Agency throughout the EA.

The Agency requested specialist and expert information and knowledge from the C-NLOPB, Department of National Defense, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Health Canada, Transport Canada, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), Indigenous Services Canada and the Parks Canada Agency. Their advice and expertise has been incorporated into the sections that follow.

4.4. Consultation on the Draft Environmental Assessment Report

The Agency invited the public and Indigenous groups to comment on a draft version of this EA Report and on the potential EA conditions. The Agency received five submissions from Indigenous groups. Comments, issues, and recommendations were consistent with the areas of concern identified in earlier phases of the EA, and that have been summarized in section 4.1.1 and Appendix C, including effects on fish marine mammals and birds (including species of particular concern to Indigenous groups such as Atlantic salmon); effects from an accident or malfunction; and cumulative effects. Consultation with Indigenous groups, impacts to Rights, and the role of Indigenous groups during oil spill response were also highlighted in the submissions. The Agency also received three submissions from the public and the proponent, which included recommended modifications to the conditions, expressed support for the Project, and identified concerns regarding the potential effects on fish and fish habitat and international commercial fishing activity.

The Agency considered the submissions and is of the view that the analysis of environmental effects and conclusions presented in the draft EA Report remain appropriate. Based on its review of specific comments received, the Agency edited the EA Report for further clarity. The Agency determined that the proposed key mitigations remained appropriate, with the addition of the following items:

  • requiring the proponent to control project lighting, including the direction, timing, intensity and glare of light fixtures, while meeting operational, health and safety requirements;
  • requiring the proponent to include in its Fisheries Communications Plan procedures to engage in two-way communication with Indigenous groups in the event of a spill requiring a tier 2 or tier 3 responsefootnote 2; and
  • requiring the proponent to provide Indigenous group with an opportunity to review and provide feedback on a draft version of the Spill Response Plan.

5. Existing Marine Ecosystem

CEAA 2012 defines the environment as the components of the Earth, including the land, water, and air, all organic and inorganic matter and living organisms, and the interacting natural systems that include these components. Similarly, marine ecosystems include the physical and chemical environment along with varied, complex and naturally dynamic organisms. Human activities can cause changes that affect the health of marine ecosystems.

This section summarizes information on the existing marine ecosystem presented by the proponent and available online in DFO's report Canada's Oceans Now: Atlantic Ecosystems, 2018 (DFO, 2018a).

5.1. Physical and Chemical Environment

5.1.1. Physical Environment

The Project would be located in the Flemish Pass of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. The Flemish Pass is a north-east – south-west trending, mid-slope basin located between the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap. It reaches a depth of approximately 1300 metres and is dominated by sandy mud substrate with some areas of rocks. The physical components of the marine ecosystem in the Flemish Pass are influenced by seasonal changes in currents, water temperature, sea ice, oxygen levels, acidification, and nutrient levels. Changes in the physical environment may have important impacts on biological systems at different scales, including changes in species growth rates or changes in food webs.

The predominant ocean current in the project area is the Labrador Current which brings cool Arctic water to the area. The Labrador Current mixes with the Gulf Stream to create an area of high productivity along the tail of the Grand Banks which is located southwest of the project area within the regional study area.

The North Atlantic is temperate with ocean temperatures changing with the season. The surface water temperatures in the project area vary with air temperatures ranging from -1.8 degrees Celsius in February to 15.7 degrees Celsius in August. For depths greater than 200 metres, sea temperature varies only slightly by depth with monthly mean temperatures ranging from 3.3 to 4.0 degrees Celsius. An important interaction is the mixing of cooler, fresher water from the Labrador Current with the warmer, saltier waters of the Gulf Stream. Temperature influences both physical processes such as sea ice formation and mixing in the water column and the condition and behaviour of the species inhabiting the area.

Seasonal changes in sea ice and the layers in the water column play important roles in the way the ecosystem in the project area functions. An important feature in the project area is the cold intermediate layer that forms when a cold water layer is trapped by warm spring surface water, along with freshwater from sea ice melt and runoff from land, forming a less dense layer at the top of the water column. The cold intermediate layer influences mixing within the water column which affects how nutrients are distributed and has an impact on the productivity of the ecosystem. Seasonal changes in sea ice influence freshwater input and the timing of phytoplankton blooms. Sea ice also provides habitat for organisms that live under and on the ice. The project area generally has sea ice from mid-January until late April with the highest ice extent and presence of first year ice in early April. Icebergs are observed in the project area from January to August. The number of icebergs reported (first sightings) annually for the project area varies and has historically ranged from zero in numerous years, to a maximum of 217 and has averaged 55 icebergs per year.

The climate of the project area is governed by the passage of high- and low-pressure circulation systems. This results in periods with high winds, large wave heights, low visibility and severe weather. The highest average wind speeds of 11.7 metres per second occur in winter, with maximum wind speeds recorded of 34.3 metres per second in January. Minimum and maximum recorded air temperatures are -12degrees Celsius in February and 24 degrees Celsius in August. Precipitation occurs within the project area approximately 14.6 percent of the time. The highest precipitation, 22.8 percent of the time, is in February occurring approximately equally as rain/drizzle and snow and the lowest precipitation, 9.8 percent of the time, is in July with the majority occurring as rain/drizzle. Fog frequently reduces visibility in the project area with the majority of the fog occurring from May to August.

Underwater sound is an important factor when assessing the potential effects of exploration drilling offshore on certain species, especially marine mammals that rely on sound to communicate, locate food and detect threats. Underwater sound is influenced by natural conditions, such as weather and wave action and marine mammals (e.g., whale songs), as well as human activities, such as petroleum production and exploration activities, fishing and marine transportation.

5.1.2. Chemical Environment

The chemical environment includes components such as dissolved oxygen, ocean acidity and nutrient availability. The amount of dissolved oxygen in seawater is important for the health of marine organisms. In deep water, as in the project area, mixing from surface waters can replace oxygen. When there is little mixing, dissolved oxygen can be depleted by the respiration of organisms and the breakdown of organic matter. If oxygen levels are too low, there may be serious effects on ecosystems such as slower growth, reduced reproductive success and effects on the way species are distributed since most species will leave an area before hypoxia can cause potential adverse effects.

Ocean acidity is increasing as the ocean absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide. An increase in acidity makes the water more corrosive to calcium carbonate, the main element in the skeletons and shells of many organisms including plankton and corals, and can also cause increased physiological stress for these organisms. These changes can have implications for food webs and ecosystems as a whole.

Like plants on land, phytoplankton require light and nutrients to grow. The most important nutrients include nitrogen, phosphorous and silica. Nitrogen is usually the limiting nutrient for the growth of phytoplankton in the ocean. As a result, nitrogen cycling within the water column is very important.

5.2. Biological Environment

The biological components of the marine ecosystem include phytoplankton, zooplankton, corals and sponges, fish and invertebrate communities, marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds. The biological environment is changing with species distributions shifting and causing changes to the food web.

Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that produce oxygen and organic matter from sunlight, carbon dioxide and inorganic nutrients. They support many marine food webs as the key food source for zooplankton, which are in turn food for many fish and marine mammals. Phytoplankton abundance is an indicator of the productivity of an ecosystem. Changes in the timing of the spring bloom can have consequences for many other organisms in the ecosystem. In most areas of the North Atlantic, phytoplankton biomasses have been well below average since 2015.

Zooplankton are small animals that drift in the water column, feeding on phytoplankton, bacteria and fungi. They are the critical link between phytoplankton and larger marine animals and changes in zooplankton abundance have important consequences for animals that rely on them as their primary food source. In general, zooplankton have been experiencing a shift in community structure with a lower abundance of energy-rich copepod C. finmarchicus and a higher abundance of small and warm-water copepods as well as non-copepods.

Corals grow mainly on boulders and bedrock but can also anchor in soft sediments. The distribution of deep-water corals is patchy, influenced by the condition of the seabed, temperature, salinity and currents. Sponges are found along continental shelves, slopes, canyons and deep fjords at depths down to 3,000 metres. Both deep-sea corals and sponges are vulnerable to human activities such as fishing and resource extraction. Corals and sponges may be the only complex habitat-forming features on the seafloor. Their structure provides areas for other species to rest, feed, spawn, avoid predators and provide protection for eggs and juveniles of various species. Sponges contribute significantly to the nitrogen, carbon and silicon cycles in the ocean. This results from their large filter-feeding capacity, a diet mainly composed of dissolved organic matter and a silicified skeleton.

Marine fish and invertebrates within pelagic, demersal and benthic communities are part of a complex ecological network. These communities are closely connected to the physical, chemical and biological environment in which they live. An example of this is how physical conditions affect the capelin population. A key factor is the timing of melting sea ice in spring that generates ocean conditions that are favourable to the spring bloom of phytoplankton. If blooms occur too early, due to early ice retreat, zooplankton may miss the maximum peak of phytoplankton production. This creates a mismatch in energy flow and reduces zooplankton productivity. The result is lower forage fish production. Capelin and herring production are linked directly with the abundance of their zooplankton prey and capelin growth and spawning may be directly impacted by poor zooplankton production. In turn, capelin availability has been shown to be an important driver of the abundance of northern Atlantic Cod stocks and reproductive rates in Harp Seals.

Marine fish and fish habitat components that are relevant to the project area include plankton, benthos and finfish. The presence, abundance and distribution of particular species varies considerably based on habitat characteristics and variability across this rather large and diverse marine environment. The Project would take place in the vicinity of the Grand Banks, Flemish Cap and the Flemish Pass, each of which are unique functional units with specific oceanographic characteristics and species assemblages:

  • the relatively shallow Grand Banks Shelf is dominated by echinoderms (e.g., sand dollars), bivalves (e.g., Icelandic Scallop), shrimp, Snow Crab, lanternfish and redfish.
  • the Flemish Cap supports benthic invertebrates characteristic of shelf and slope assemblages, including sea stars and sea anemones. Redfish species and Atlantic Cod are found in shallow slope areas, with deeper slopes dominated by Greenland Halibut, Longnose Eel, Blue Hake, grenadiers and dogfish.
  • the Flemish Pass supports benthic invertebrate species characteristic of middle slope assemblages, predominately corals, sponges and echinoderms. Deeper areas of the slope are dominated by sea pens, sponges and echinoderms. Finfish species typical at middle slope depths include Longnose Eel, Blue Hake and halibut. Dominant species in deeper areas include lanternfish, dragonfish and viperfish.

The continental slope acts as a transition zone between these functional units and supports important fish habitat.

Many of the marine mammals present in the project area are summer migrants which come to the Northwest Atlantic to feed mainly on capelin, Atlantic Herring, and krill. The role of marine mammals in the Atlantic food web varies widely, from fish-eating Grey Seals to slow-moving copepod and fish-eating Northern Atlantic Right Whales. Because many marine mammal species are highly mobile and migratory, their movements can reflect changes in prey or in environmental conditions.

The eastern and southern coastlines and the offshore waters of Newfoundland and Labrador provide important habitat for marine-associated bird species. Offshore islands and mainland cliffs provide nesting grounds for tens of millions of seabirds representing some 20 species, including some of the largest seabird colonies in eastern North America south of the Hudson Strait (e.g., the largest colony of Leach's Storm-petrels in the world is located on Baccalieu Island, approximately 64 kilometres north of St.John's). The abundance and distribution of species in the region varies considerably based on the time of year.

Seabirds are top predators and can be effective indicators of overall health of marine ecosystems. Some populations of seabirds have been increasing such as Common Murres and Atlantic Puffins while others have stabilized after a period of increased abundance such as Northern Gannets; however, certain surface-feeding species such as Black-legged Kittiwakes, Leach's Storm-petrel and Herring Gulls have experienced population declines. Abundance of seabirds can be indirectly affected by changes in oceanographic conditions or by human activities such as commercial fishing and oil and gas exploration and production. For example, Leach's Storm-petrels are vulnerable to light effects from the Project as they hunt at night for species such as lanternfish. Lanternfish vertically migrate during the day, spending the daytime in deep water and rising to the surface at nighttime. Thus, the effect of the Project's lighting on Leach's Storm-petrel is two-fold; attraction and disorientation of birds to the light and potential effects to the availability of food sources.

5.3. Human Activities

The project area and larger eastern Newfoundland and Labrador offshore area is known to be used for a variety of human activities. These include marine research activities, marine shipping, commercial fisheries, other offshore oil and gas activity, military operations and marine subsea cables.

Fisheries are an important component of the human environment of Newfoundland and Labrador, especially for communities and regions along the eastern coastline of Newfoundland. Prior to 1992, for decades the primary harvesting activities taking place targeted groundfish species. With the collapse of groundfish stocks in the early 1990s, a moratorium was declared and commercial harvest of groundfish dropped drastically. Although some groundfish and pelagic fish harvesting are still conducted, Snow Crab and shrimp are now the primary species harvested by fishers in offshore Newfoundland and Labrador by both weight and value.

6. Predicted Effects on Valued Components

Section 6 discusses the potential effects of the Project on the valued components considered by the Agency. Potential effects on special areas and species at risk are considered in Section 6.4 and 6.5, respectively but also in other sections where the valued component may include relevant special areas or species at risk. The potential effects of an accident or malfunction on these valued components are discussed in Section 7.1.

A summary of the proponent's proposed mitigation measures, monitoring and follow-up is provided in AppendixB.

As described in the analysis below and taking into account the implementation of key mitigation measures, the Agency concludes that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat, marine mammals and sea turtles, migratory birds, special areas, species at risk, commercial fisheries or the current use, health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples.

6.1. Fish and Fish Habitat

6.1.1. Proponent's Assessment of Environmental Effects

Existing Environment

The project area and surrounding marine environments are used by fish and invertebrate species of commercial, cultural and/or ecological importance and support regionally important areas of biodiversity and marine productivity. Species distributions fluctuate as species migrate on daily or seasonal cycles. For example, on an annual cycle, the regional study area is visited by large pelagics (e.g., tunas, swordfish) during the warm water season, while other occupants (e.g., capelin, Atlantic Cod) may leave the area at certain times of the year as they migrate inshore to spawn or feed. Other species (e.g., redfish, Greenland Halibut and Snow Crab) are more resident in nature.

Structure forming sponges and corals provide habitat, refuge and foraging areas for a variety of species. There are at least 56 species of corals and sea pens distributed on the Flemish Cap, Flemish Pass and the Grand Banks and at least 60 species of sponges in the region. Regionally, areas with relatively high sponge biomass are located in the southern Flemish Pass and eastern slope of the Grand Banks. Within the project area and adjacent environments, sponge densities are considered low on the seabed and medium on the slopes.

There are multiple fish species at risk that may occur in the project area or have ranges overlapping the regional study area. These include the following three species which have been highlighted by Indigenous groups as being of particular concern:

  • American Eel travel from freshwater environments during the fall to the Sargasso Sea to spawn and have the potential to occur seasonally at shallow depths in the project area;
  • Atlantic Bluefin Tuna migrate to the waters of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, including the Grand Banks, Flemish Pass, Flemish Cap, and areas off the continental shelf, in search of food during the summer before leaving the area in the fall; and
  • Atlantic Salmon could pass through the project area on route to and from their maturation and winter feeding grounds in the Labrador Sea and off Greenland.

Atlantic Salmon populations, including those not currently considered at risk, have shown declines in recent years, particularly in the number of adults returning to spawn. Hypotheses for this decline include predation, fishing pressure and changes in the physical and biological environments, with top-ranked hypotheses associated with the marine phase of a salmon's life cycle. Higher mortality is occurring after salmon leave their natal rivers and this appears to be common to all North American Atlantic Salmon spawning populations.

Little research is available on the routes used by Atlantic Salmon to access suitable marine habitat, particularly since the close of the commercial salmon fishery and reduction in tagging experiments in the 1970s and 1980s. Labrador and Nunavik populations are unlikely to migrate through the project area but individuals from the island of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and the Gulf of St. Lawrence could pass through the project area. Prior to their spring spawning migration to their natal rivers, adult salmon have been found congregating in two general offshore locations: the western edge of Labrador Sea and the eastern edge of the Grand Banks. In terms of habitat preferences, avoidance of lower water temperatures, particularly below 3°C, can play a predictive role in habitat use near the Grand Banks and Flemish Pass. Although favourable temperatures for salmon exist in January and April, there is little to no data to support the project area being used by Atlantic Salmon as overwintering habitat or as a major feeding area.

Predicted Effects

The proponent predicted the following potential interactions between the Project and fish and fish habitat:

  • destruction, contamination or alteration of marine habitats, fish and benthic organisms from deposition of drill cuttings and/or fluids, other environmental discharges, deployment and use of project equipment, and the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species;
  • attraction of fish to the MODU and vessels, resulting in increased potential for injury or mortality;
  • behavioural effects and temporary avoidance of areas from underwater sound;
  • changes in the availability, distribution or quality of feed sources and/or habitats; and
  • injury, mortality or disturbance to marine fish as a result of exposure to sound.

Key potential effects on fish and fish habitat that may result from the above interactions are described below.

Risk of Mortality or Physical Injury or Changes in Health

Fish mortality, injury or health effects could result from discharge of drill cuttings and drilling fluids or from sound emissions during drilling or VSP surveys.

The planned release of drilling waste materials is a key potential interaction with marine fish and fish habitat during offshore drilling programs, with potential effects on fish and benthos via smothering, chemical toxicity and bioaccumulation. Studies and monitoring programs have shown that the nature and magnitude of smothering of benthic invertebrates and creation of oxygen-depleted environments (from degradation of synthetic-based mud organic components) are linked to the thickness and extent of the associated cuttings layers that may accumulate on the seabed following discharge. Drill cutting deposition modelling predicted that the formed cuttings layer would be limited in size and distribution in this deep offshore environment, and that cuttings layer thicknesses would exceed established thresholds for creation of anoxic areas and smothering of benthic species in a limited area surrounding each well. Any cutting accumulations on the seabed would eventually be recolonized following the completion of each of the up to ten wells that may be drilled as part of this Project.

The Project would use both water-based and synthetic-based drilling muds for drilling, with treatment and disposal of muds and cuttings in accordance with the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines. Water-based muds and associated cuttings would be discharged directly to the seabed. Water-based muds are not likely to result in contamination as these materials are non-toxic, have low bioaccumulation potential and only localized biological effects.

Species that have limited ability to migrate away from the well site (e.g., corals) are considered sensitive to suspended sediments, with increased larval mortality and changes in feeding behaviour resulting from exposure to water-based muds. Environmental effects monitoring data for offshore Newfoundland have indicated that the area of water-based mud effects where there was an increase in metal levels is generally limited to within 250-500 metres of the well site.

Synthetic-based mud-associated cuttings would be treated to limit the amount of synthetic mud retained on the cuttings discharge. Acute toxicity of synthetic-based muds is considered to be relatively low based on laboratory experiments and field evaluations of synthetic-based mud-associated drill cuttings piles; however, toxicity experiments showed that there are potential health effects with chronic exposure to synthetic-based mud-associated cuttings. Very small quantities (less than four percent) of synthetic-based mud-associated cuttings were predicted to disperse beyond one to two kilometres from the deepwater well site, with accumulations (less than 0.1millimetre) well below the most conservative no-effect threshold value of 1.5 millimetres. Due to the relatively low quantities, dispersed synthetic-based mud-associated cuttings would be expected to have very low potential for interactions with organisms in the water column and benthic areas more than one to two kilometres from the well site. Any potential effects are likely to be localized and temporary in nature, as synthetic-based muds biodegrade within a few years.

Operation of the MODU and support vessels as well as VSP surveys would produce sound that may result in impacts to fish and invertebrates. Effects vary given the spectrum of hearing capabilities of fish and invertebrates and may include changes in fish mortality, injury (e.g., hearing sensory structures) and fish health (including changes to food availability and abundance). Although it is recognized that marine invertebrates can be quite sensitive to sound, recent field-based studies on adult populations of scallops, clams and lobster revealed no evidence of increased mortality after prolonged exposure. Some species may also become habituated to underwater noise levels. During seismic surveys, little direct physical damage to fish occurs at distances greater than a few metres from the seismic sound source and due to avoidance behaviour by free-swimming fish, they typically do not suffer physical damage from these surveys. Furthermore, seismic emissions from VSP surveys are mainly directed downwards into the well, with limited horizontal range, and sound levels are lower than those for standard geophysical surveys.

Based on previous modelling, the proponent estimated that source pressure levels would range from 189 to 197dB re 1 μPafootnote 3 for operation of the MODU and support vessels and from 245.6 to 248.2 dB re 1 μPa for VSP surveys. At the source, these values exceed published guidelines for injury and/or mortality of some species and life stages;footnote 4 however, the proponent noted that sound levels would decrease rapidly with increasing distance from the source. For example, exceedance of thresholds for temporary threshold shift and recoverable injuries was predicted to be limited to within 330 metres and 150 metres from the centre of the drilling platform, respectively. Given the transient nature of fish and demonstrated avoidance behaviours of fish to sound, the proponent stated it would be unlikely that fish would remain in the immediate area long enough (i.e., 12 to 48hours) to be continuously exposed to these levels. Furthermore, even in the unexpected event that an individual elected to remain in the exposure area, the result would still be temporary in nature, as both temporary hearing threshold shift and recoverable injuries are by definition short-term and reversible outcomes. The proponent concluded that underwater noise emitted during VSP surveys may result in temporary displacement of some fish species but is not anticipated to result in injury or mortality of fish and invertebrates.

In addition to drilling muds and cuttings and sound emissions, the Project would also result in other discharges to the marine environment (e.g., cement, bilge and deck drainage, ballast water, sewage, cooling water). Waste discharges would be treated as required and discharged in accordance with applicable requirements, thereby reducing any potential effects on the marine environment. Additionally, any foreign vessels used for the Project operating in Canadian jurisdiction would comply with requirements to carry out ballast tank or system flushing prior to arriving in Canadian waters to mitigate the spread of alien invasive species.

Change in Habitat Availability or Quality

Drilling and associated cuttings discharges affect fish habitat via seabed disturbance, sediment deposition and change of substrate composition.

To determine the potential extent of these effects, drill cuttings dispersion modelling was conducted for two sites in the project area. The sites were located on either side of the Flemish Pass, one in deep water (1137metres) and one in shallower water (378 metres). A burial depth of 6.5 millimetres was identified as the predicted no-effect threshold for non-toxic sedimentation, with a threshold of 1.5 millimetres identified for more susceptible species. In general, cuttings pile thicknesses decrease with distance from the well site, with distributional variations dependent on seasonal hydrodynamics and cutting particle composition and size.

Water-based muds and cuttings would be released approximately two metres from the seafloor, leaving little time for the muds and cuttings to be transported by ambient currents prior to settling. Modelling of water-based muds and cuttings predicted that the majority of water-based muds and cuttings (93 percent to greater than 98percent) for the deep water well scenario would settle within 100 metres of the well site, with more than 99percent predicted to settle within 200 metres of the well site in shallower water. Maximum predicted drift distances were 280 metres in deeper water and 260 metres in shallower water.

Cuttings with residual synthetic-based muds would be discharged near the sea surface, increasing potential dispersal distance. Modelling of synthetic-based mud-associated cuttings predicted that approximately 90 percent would settle within 500 metres of the release point in deeper water and approximately 94 percent would settle within 500 metres in shallower water. A small portion of the cuttings may travel farther but approximately 96 percent of cuttings would settle within two kilometres of the well site.

The largest predicted area of total synthetic-based mud cuttings thickness above the 6.5 millimetre predicted no-effect threshold was approximately 0.06 square kilometres (approximately 400 metres by 150 metres) in deeper water and 0.047square kilometres (approximately 260 metres by 180 metres) in shallower water. For the conservative 1.5millimetre predicted no-effect threshold, the largest estimated area above the threshold was approximately 0.182 square kilometres (approximately 700 metres by 260 metres) for the deep water site and approximately 0.084 square kilometres (approximately 350 metres by 240 metres) for the shallow water site.

Change in Fish Presence or Abundance (Behavioural Effects)

In response to noise typically associated with drilling activities, fish exhibit a variety of behavioural responses depending on the species, life stage, intensity of sound, distance from source and other factors. Responses include avoidance or attraction by individual fish, as well as possible physiological effects when fish are continuously exposed to noise, which may in turn affect feeding, reproduction and communication. The proponent stated that overall, short-term and low-frequency sounds elicit temporary avoidance due to startling effects, with longer-term avoidance potentially occurring if the sound is of higher frequency or continuous. These effects can be short-lived and transient in nature, and reversible once the sound source has been removed or reduced, decreasing the potential for any detrimental effects. The proponent concluded that the short-term sound effects from drilling, dynamic positioning and other activities would not have overall (population level) adverse effects on fish in the local study area or beyond.

While some fish species avoid sound and light, lighting and other environmental discharges (including any organic waste and food waste material) may result in the attraction of some fish and invertebrate species. Migrating individuals, plankton, and pelagic species may be attracted to the lights of the MODU shining on the water, and invertebrates may become attached to the subsea structure as it provides a surface for colonization. Combined, this may create a "reef effect" in which fish may aggregate near and below the MODU in response to increased foraging and shelter opportunities. Any such positive effects would be temporary as removal of the subsea structure from the well site would usually result in local fish and invertebrate abundance and diversity returning to levels prior to enhancement.

6.1.2. Views expressed

Federal Authorities

The C-NLOPB reviewed the proponent's drill cuttings modelling and requested rationale to support its use of cuttings data from a well drilled in 1985 as an input to the model when more recent well data exists. DFO also requested clarification on dispersion model inputs and design. The proponent indicated that the 1985 well data was chosen based on criteria including proximity to the licence areas, geological similarities, the availability of particle size information and the use of synthetic-based muds. The proponent presented a discussion of the drilling conditions and standards used in the 1985 well (e.g., drilling fluids, drill bits and other drilling methods and cuttings treatment) compared to more current conditions and standards and how any differences might affect model results. It was noted that current drilling methods and technologies produce cuttings with different particle size distribution patterns (i.e., greater volume of smaller sized particles in newer wells compared to the 1985 well); however, the proponent re-ran the original model using more recent particle size distribution data and the results showed general agreement in the dispersion footprint between the two data sets and no indication of any significant differences in model predictions. The proponent concluded that the original model predictions presented in the EIS are reasonable dispersion estimates.

DFO and the C-NLOPB requested additional information on the proponent's commitments related to seabed investigation surveys, methodologies to be employed and how drill cuttings dispersion modelling would be used to inform the surveys. DFO requested clarification related to the criteria that would be used to define coral and sponge aggregations. The proponent confirmed its commitment to complete seabed investigation surveys for each proposed well site prior to the start of drilling to identify sensitive benthic organisms (such as coral and sponges) or habitats. The proponent would submit a well site specific Seabed Investigation Plan to the C-NLOPB and DFO for review and acceptance prior to commencing the investigation. The plan would include coral and sponge species specific to the offshore Newfoundland and Labrador area and information on species that may be present in the planned well site location, if known; the proposed survey methods for hard coral, soft coral and sponges; the proposed survey area(s); and mapping requirements. Further, the proponent committed to providing the C-NLOPB and DFO (for review and acceptance) a post survey summary report, which would include a description of the mitigation to be used based on several factors (e.g., number of living soft corals per a defined area).

The Agency requested information on the likely distance between wells and the potential for overlapping effects of discharges given that the proponent indicated wells could be drilled in close proximity to one another. The proponent predicted the minimum estimated distance between potential wells would be six kilometres and considered potential overlapping effects based on this distance. Dispersion modelling of drill cuttings predicted a small footprint for drill cuttings that limits the potential burial of benthic species to less than 500 metres around the well site. Small quantities (less than four percent) of synthetic-based mud cuttings were predicted to disperse beyond one to two kilometres. The remaining low quantities of cuttings dispersed beyond twokilometres were not predicted to have any potential interactions with fish or fish habitat due to the expected low concentration in the water column and lack of accumulation on the seabed, and there would be no predicted overlapping effects between wells.

DFO provided information on the migration patterns of Atlantic Salmon in the Northwest Atlantic and on the potential effects of the Project. It advised that Atlantic Salmon that spawn in rivers of eastern Canada (including New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec) travel throughout the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. As there have been few marine surveys of the species, their oceanic movement is not well understood. Atlantic Salmon in the Northwest Atlantic are found most abundantly west of Greenland and in the Labrador Sea in summer and fall and along the eastern slope of the Grand Banks in spring. Surveys have also detected salmon in waters of the Jeanne d'Arc Basin/Flemish Pass region but in lower abundances than the areas previously noted and only in the spring. DFO further advised that it is possible that some salmon overwinter in the Jeanne d'Arc Basin/Flemish Pass region and that salmon are likely to be present in the Jeanne d'Arc Basin/Flemish Pass region at some times of the year as they migrate through the area, to and from natal rivers. The department advised that monitoring of finfish for the past 25 to 30 years in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore has revealed no effects on fish health from ongoing oil and gas operations.

DFO advised the Agency that the mitigation measures, monitoring and follow-up programs proposed by the proponent and recommended by the Agency would adequately address the potential effects of the Project on fish and fish habitat.

Additional views expressed by federal authorities overlapped with views expressed by Indigenous groups. Some of these key views and comments are discussed below.

Indigenous Peoples

The Qalipu First Nation, Elsipogtog, MTI, WNNB, Nutashkuan, MFN, and KMKNO submitted comments specific to Atlantic Salmon, including additional information and research for consideration by the proponent and comments on the Project's potential effects. Submissions raised the potential for the project area to be used as foraging and nursery habitat for Atlantic Salmon in addition to being a migration corridor. Similar concerns were also raised by Indigenous groups during workshops help by the Agency in April 2018. The proponent considered and analyzed the additional information sources and concluded that although the new information adds to the data on marine movements and habitat utilization, it does not alter the conclusion from the EIS: spring migration of adult Atlantic Salmon within and near the project area is possible; however, the likelihood of interaction remains low and the environmental effects of routine Project activities on Atlantic Salmon are predicted to be not significant. The proponent acknowledged the gaps in understanding of Atlantic Salmon migration patterns in the North Atlantic and indicated that it would contribute to research on migratory routes within the project area, which includes potential new studies through the Environmental Studies Research Fund (ESRF).

KMKNO recommended that no drilling activities take place between January and August so as not to interact with migratory Atlantic salmon in the project area.

KMKNO and Qalipu First Nation expressed concerns about potential effects on American Eel, stressing the cultural importance of this species and requesting additional information on potential measures to mitigate effects. The proponent recognized that American Eel may migrate through the shallow waters in the project area and noted that general mitigation measures for fish and fish habitat would avoid or reduce potential adverse effects on American Eel.

MTI stated that North Atlantic Swordfish are a commercially and culturally important species and requested a more comprehensive assessment of potential effects, especially given that the species only tolerates small environmental changes. The proponent responded that swordfish generally occupy Canadian waters for foraging from June to October, and that swordfish have been shown to be attracted to marine structures and to low frequency sounds that are typical of offshore operations. Attraction to a MODU may result in increased exposure of individual swordfish to emissions and discharges, and discharges may also reduce visibility in the water and affect the ability to capture prey fish. However, swordfish are a highly mobile species that are also likely able to avoid or leave areas with undesirable or potentially harmful conditions, and the distance from the project area to spawning habitats in the Gulf of Mexico reduces potential interactions with important habitats and critical life stages.

MMS and other Indigenous groups noted that there remains uncertainty associated with the effects of offshore noise on marine life, particularly from seismic activity. MMS noted that research suggests a negative correlation between seismic activity and plankton, which is the very base of the marine food chain. The proponent acknowledged that seismic noise and associated pressure waves have been shown to have effects on larval and adult zooplankton at a range of up to 1.2 kilometres away from the air gun array but noted that most research on the effects of seismic activities on marine species is based on geophysical seismic survey programs. Compared to VSP, geophysical seismic survey programs are longer in duration, cover a larger geographic extent and use a larger sound source. Therefore, the effects associated with VSP associated with the Project are predicted to be smaller than the seismic effects identified in the literature. Further, the proponent stated that the potential effects of seismic activities on plankton are influenced by local ocean currents, plankton species, compressed air source level and configuration, study area and study design. The proponent indicated that its initial effects assessment determination remained unchanged.

Ekuanitshit and MFN requested additional information on the use and potential effects of biocides. The proponent stated that biocides are not consistently used as part of exploration drilling activities but potentially could be used in cooling water systems or sewage treatment systems. The proponent stated that the type of biocide used is specifically selected for the equipment and operational requirements. Any biocides that could be used would be screened and approved in accordance with the Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines. The proponent would identify any biocides proposed for use and the concentrations that may be discharged to sea in its Environmental Protection Plan, which would be reviewed and accepted by the C-NLOPB prior to drilling.

Additional views expressed by Indigenous groups overlapped with those views expressed by federal authorities. Some of these key views and comments were discussed above. A summary of issues raised by Indigenous groups is presented in Appendix C.

Public

The Agency did not receive comments from the public regarding the potential effects of the Project on fish and fish habitat.

6.1.3. Agency Analysis and Conclusion

Analysis of Effects

The Agency is aware that parts of exploration licence areas included in the Project may support aggregations of sponges and corals. Habitat complexity and biodiversity in deep-sea environments is highly dependent on these long-lived, structure-forming organisms, which provide refuge, nursery and foraging areas for many fish and invertebrate species. Without adequate mitigation, benthic habitat, including corals and sponges, could be affected by the discharge of drilling muds and cuttings from the Project; sedentary or slow moving species may be smothered and the sediment quality may be altered by nutrient enrichment and oxygen depletion at cuttings deposition thicknesses above the 6.5 millimetre threshold for burial effects (the proponent also identified a 1.5millimetre threshold for more susceptible species). Given the importance and sensitivity of corals and sponges, the proponent would be required to conduct surveys at each well site and around anchor points prior to drilling. If aggregations of habitat-forming corals or sponges or other environmentally sensitive features were identified, the proponent would be required to relocate the anchors or the well and/or redirect cuttings discharges to avoid affecting them, unless not technically feasible. If it is determined that it is not technically feasible to move the well or redirect cuttings discharges, the proponent would be required to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the benthic habitat in consultation with DFO prior to drilling to determine the potential for the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of coral and sponge aggregations and related options for mitigation to reduce any identified risks.

Fish and fish habitat could also be affected by other marine discharges. The Agency notes that all chemicals would be selected in accordance with the Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines and any discharges would meet or exceed standards set out in the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines and MARPOL. The implementation of these measures would limit effects on fish.

Continuous underwater sound from operation of the MODU and support vessels may cause recoverable injury or temporary hearing threshold shift in certain species of fish at distances of up to 150 and 330 metres from the source, respectively. Sound may also result in behaviour responses, including avoidance or attraction, and may mask fish sensory abilities. Sound from VSP surveys could also affect fish, including potentially causing injury or mortality. Sound levels from these surveys may exceed injury thresholds for some species or life stages in the immediate vicinity of the sound source. Mobile species would likely exhibit avoidance behaviour and the surveys would begin with a "ramp up" phase to increase initial avoidance and limit any potential effects. Although fish may temporarily avoid the area, it is predicted that they would not be displaced from important habitats or disrupted during key activities over extended areas or periods. Immobile species or life stages may experience injury and mortality but these effects would be localized.

Certain fish species that could be affected by the Project are of particular importance to Indigenous groups and are used or have been historically used by these groups for traditional purposes, in particular Atlantic Salmon. During the EA, Indigenous groups and the proponent provided information on Atlantic Salmon and its potential interaction with the Project. The Agency notes that DFO reviewed available information and confirmed the uncertainty regarding the at-sea migration patterns and habitat use of Atlantic Salmon. Given the potential for some Atlantic Salmon to occur in areas that overlap with the Project, effects on the species could occur. DFO has advised that potential effects of the Project are expected to be negligible to low and spatially and temporally limited. This prediction is made with a moderate level of certainty given uncertainties about Atlantic Salmon distributions and reasons for population declines. Based on advice from DFO and the C-NLOPB, the Agency also determined that restricting drilling activities during certain times of year was not warranted and would unnecessarily limit the timing of proponent's drilling activities.

Given the uncertainty about Atlantic Salmon and the importance of the species to Indigenous groups, the proponent has indicated it would contribute to research on salmon migration in the project area, perhaps as a collaborative effort or as part of a regional initiative. Additional research on the presence, migration and distribution of Atlantic Salmon may be supported through the ESRF, an initiative funded through levies on frontier landsfootnote 5 paid by interest holders such as oil and gas companies. The ESRF is directed by a joint government/industry/public management board and administered by a secretariat which resides in NRCan. The Agency notes that, to address knowledge gaps regarding Atlantic Salmon migration identified during this and other EAs of exploration projects in offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, in May 2019 the ESRF issued a call for proposals for Environmental and Social Studies related to Atlantic Salmon.

Key Mitigation Measures to Avoid Significant Effects

The Agency considered the mitigation measures proposed by the proponent (Appendix B), expert advice from federal authorities and comments from Indigenous groups and the public, and identified the following key measures to mitigate the Project's effects on fish and fish habitat:

  • prepare a pre-drill seabed investigation plan for each well site and submit to DFO and the C-NLOPB for review and approval prior to implementing the survey. The plan should be designed to:
  • collect high-definition visual data to confirm the presence or absence of sensitive environmental features, including aggregations of habitat-forming corals or sponges;
  • identify the equipment used for the surveys, to be operated by a qualified individual; and
  • include information on survey transect length and pattern around each well site, which should be based on applicable drill cutting dispersion model results. Transects around anchor sites should extend at least 50 metres from the extent of each structure.
  • based on approved plans, undertake a seabed investigation survey at each well location and around each anchor point prior to commencing drilling a well. Retain a qualified independent marine scientist to provide advice in real-time.
  • provide the results of the seabed investigation survey to the C-NLOPB and DFO prior to commencing drilling. In addition, provide a description of additional mitigation and monitoring based on the results of the survey and predicted areas of sedimentation and disturbance. Results of the surveys should be provided to Indigenous groups and posted online for public access.
  • if aggregations of habitat-forming corals or sponges or other environmentally sensitive features are identified when undertaking the survey:
  • relocate the anchors or the well and/or redirect cuttings discharges to ensure that the drilling installation, anchors or drill muds and cuttings discharges will not affect them, unless not technically feasible. No drilling should occur before a decision is made by the C-NLOPB and DFO regarding appropriate mitigation and monitoring; or
  • if it is determined, to the C-NLOPB's satisfaction, that it is not technically feasible to relocate the anchors or the well or redirect cuttings discharges, conduct a comprehensive assessment of the potentially-affected benthic habitat in consultation with DFO prior to drilling to determine the potential for non-compliance with the fish and fish habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act and related options for mitigation to reduce any identified risk.
  • select chemicals to be used during the Project in accordance with the Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines and use lower toxicity drilling muds and biodegradable and environmentally-friendly additives within muds and cements, where feasible;
  • ensure that all discharges from the MODU meet the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines;
  • transport spent or excess synthetic-based muds that cannot be re-used during drilling operations to shore for disposal at an approved facility;
  • ensure that all discharges from supply vessels meet or exceed the standards established in the MARPOL;
  • conduct a pre-drill survey with qualified individual(s) at each well site to determine the presence of any unexploded ordnance or other seabed hazards. If any such ordnance or seabed hazard is detected, avoid disturbing or manipulating it and contact the nearest Joint Rescue Coordination Centre and the C-NLOPB prior to commencing drilling to determine an appropriate course of action; and
  • implement mitigation listed in Section 6.2 Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles related to the conduct of VSP surveys.

Follow-up

The Agency identified the following measures as part of a follow-up program, to be developed in consultation with the C-NLOPB and DFO, to ensure the effectiveness of mitigation measures and to verify the accuracy of predictions of effects on fish and fish habitat:

  • monitor the concentration of synthetic-based muds on drill cuttings to verify that the discharge meets, at a minimum, the performance target specified in the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines. Report results to the C-NLOPB;
  • for the first well on each exploration licence and for any well where drilling is undertaken in an area determined by the seabed investigation survey to be sensitive benthic habitat, conduct specific follow-up monitoring, including:
  • measurement of sediment deposition extent and thickness (e.g., core samples and/or high definition visual data) post-drilling and prior to departing the location to verify drill cuttings dispersion modelling predictions;
  • survey of benthic fauna present after drilling has been concluded;
  • reporting of results, including a comparison of modelling results to in situ results, to the C-NLOPB and DFO; and
  • results should be provided to Indigenous groups and posted online for public access;
  • participate in or support research on the presence and distribution of Atlantic Salmon in Eastern Canadian offshore areas and update the C-NLOPB and Indigenous groups annually on research activities. Research initiatives can be explored through organizations such as the ESRF and through input from and collaboration with Indigenous groups; and
  • implement the follow-up measures listed in Section 6.2 Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles related to the verification of underwater sound as a result of the Project.

Agency Conclusion

The Agency determined that the adverse residual environmental effects of the Project on fish and fish habitat would be low in magnitude, occur locally and occur continuously or regularly during drilling operations.

Taking into account the implementation of the mitigation measures described above, the Agency concludes that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat.

6.2. Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles

6.2.1. Proponent's Assessment of Environmental Effects

Existing Environment

The Project would take place within the Flemish Pass, which supports a diverse array of marine mammals, including various species of cetaceans and pinnipeds,footnote 6 and sea turtles and contains important feeding and refuge areas, migratory routes, and breeding and whelping areas. Twenty-four species of marine mammals and two species of sea turtles may be found in the project area.

Several species are present in the project area year-round (e.g., Blue Whale, Northern Bottlenose Whale, Sowerby's Beaked Whale and Sperm Whale), while others are present seasonally (e.g., Humpback Whale, Fin Whale, Sei Whale and North Atlantic Right Whale). Some of these species, including the Northern Bottlenose Whale, Blue Whale and North Atlantic Right Whale, are considered at risk (see Appendix D for a full list of species at risk that may occur in the project area or surrounding area).

Predicted Effects

The proponent predicted the following potential interactions between the Project and marine mammals and sea turtles:

  • injury or behavioural effects from sound or other disturbances caused by the Project;
  • injury or mortality through collisions or other interactions with offshore survey and supply vessels; and
  • changes in the availability, distribution or quality of feed sources and the quality of habitats.

Key potential effects on marine mammals and sea turtles that may result from the above interactions are described below.

Risk of Mortality or Physical Injury

The proponent predicted that continuous exposure to sound over a 24-hour period from an operating drilling installation could cause auditory injuryfootnote 7 in high-frequency marine mammals as far as 3.3 kilometres from the source and as far as 230 metres from the source for other marine mammal hearing groups. this is not expected to occur because it is unlikely that marine mammals and sea turtles would approach or remain in areas of intense underwater sound.

Impulsive sound, such as that emitted by VSP surveys, could also affect hearing in marine mammals and sea turtles. The proponent estimated exposure to reoccurring, impulsive sound from a VSP survey over a 24 hour period could cause auditory injury in low-frequency hearing group cetaceans at distances of up to 9.66kilometres from a VSP sound source and up to 380 metres for other marine mammal hearing groups. However, distances from the VSP sound source at which peak pressure levels (i.e., the maximum instantaneous sound pressure level) could result in injury to marine mammals would not likely extend beyond 120 metres. Thresholds for auditory injury for sea turtles have not been identified; however, it is assumed that these thresholds would not exceed those identified for cetaceans.

Explosives would not be used during wellhead abandonment. Cutting of wellheads would be infrequent, localized and of short-term duration and a mechanical cutter is not is expected to produce underwater sound of an intensity or extent to present a risk of mortality or injury.

The proponent stated that marine mammals and sea turtles could be injured or killed if struck by a project vessel and that mysticetes (baleen whales) would be the most vulnerable to vessel collisions. In particular, North Atlantic Right Whales (endangered under the Species at Risk Act), Fin Whales (special concern under the Species at Risk Act) and Humpback Whales are especially vulnerable to vessel strikes. The North Atlantic Right Whale has low potential for occurrence in the project area, and Fin Whales and Humpback Whales both have high potential for occurrence. The proponent anticipates that the Project would result in a negligible increase in the number of vessel transits over existing levels and estimates two to three project vessel return transits per week for a single MODU. It stated that reducing vessel speed has been shown to reduce the number of marine mammal deaths and severe injuries due to vessel strikes (infrequent at speeds less than 14 knots [25.9 kilometres per hour] and rare at speeds less than 10 knots [18.5 kilometres per hour]). As standard practice, transit speeds of project vessels would be typically between 10 to 12 knots (19 to 22 kilometres per hour) and occasionally 13 to 14 knots (24 to 26 kilometres per hour).

Changes in Habitat Quality and Use

The proponent predicted that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's behavioural thresholdfootnote 8 for marine mammals exposed to continuous underwater sound could be exceeded up to 56.8 kilometres from the MODU during summer based on the most conservative estimates and slightly further in the winter.footnote 9 Behavioural disturbances may include changes in vocalizations, diving/respiration, swim speed, foraging behavior, habitat avoidance and changes in migration or movement patterns or activity state. Marine mammals rely on their ability to hear and use underwater sounds to communicate, locate prey and avoid predators, and masking could occur when underwater sound is strong enough to impair detection of these sounds that marine mammals rely on. Mysticetes vocalize primarily at lower frequencies and are therefore expected to be the most susceptible to potential masking from sound produced by the MODU.

The proponent stated that sea turtles have been shown to exhibit short-term physical, physiological and behavioural effects as a result of noise disturbances and appear to be most sensitive to low-frequency sounds such as those from a MODU. Potential effects of a MODU on a change in sea turtle habitat quality or use would generally be expected to include the same effects discussed for marine mammals.

The proponent predicted that the threshold for behavioural disturbance to marine mammalsfootnote 10 could be exceeded up to 7.9 kilometres from the sound source during VSP. Overall, the proponent indicated that brief exposure to sound pulses from a single VSP survey would not be likely to result in prolonged behavioural disturbance of mysticetes (baleen whales).Odontocetes (toothed whales) generally demonstrate some level of avoidance. While limited data exists regarding behavioural responses of pinnipeds (seals, as well as sea lions and walruses) to sound sources from geophysical activities, avoidance behaviour was noted.

Numerical threshold levels for behavioural disturbance of sea turtles have not been identified; however, because they do not use acoustic sound for foraging or communication, it is thought that threshold levels are unlikely to be lower than those identified for cetaceans. The proponent described that VSP surveys could result in short-term behavioural effects in sea turtles, such as increased and erratic swimming behavior and avoidance behaviour.

Routine marine discharges could result in a temporary reduction in water quality and longer term reduction in sediment quality, which could result in adverse health effects on marine mammals and sea turtles and potential secondary effects from changes to the health, abundance and distribution of marine fish and invertebrate prey species. The proponent concluded that treated marine discharges would result in localized and temporary reduction in water and sediment quality but would be unlikely to introduce heavy metals in concentrations harmful to marine mammals and sea turtles. In addition, secondary effects would be expected to be minimal because marine mammals that regularly occur in the local study area are not known to feed on benthos.

6.2.2. Views Expressed

Federal Authorities

DFO indicated that it did not have any significant concerns with the effects of the Project on marine mammals and sea turtles based on the relatively short duration of noise disturbance, the commitment to adhere to the Statement of Canadian Practice with Respect to the Mitigation of Geophysical Sound in the Marine Environment and because there is no critical habitat for marine mammal species at risk in the project area. It advised the Agency that the mitigation measures, monitoring commitments and follow-up programs proposed by the proponent and recommended by the Agency would adequately address the potential effects of the Project on marine mammals and sea turtles.

Indigenous Peoples

KMKNO and MMS recommended that the proponent use passive acoustic monitoringfootnote 11 or equivalent technology to detect marine mammals in the vicinity of the Project given the limitations of visual observation particularly in case of low visibility (e.g., fog, nighttime). The proponent responded that sound from VSP surveys would create a relatively small radius within which injury threshold values could be exceeded and the ramp up procedure would utilize a very small air gun, which would promote temporary avoidance of the area by mobile species and help to reduce species' exposure to sound above threshold values. Trained observers would conduct visual monitoring to detect marine mammals and sea turtles within a safety zone during VSP surveys and a pre-ramp up watch prior to the start-up of operation of air source arrays. The proponent did not plan using other monitoring measures such as passive acoustic monitoring.

MMS and MTI asked how seismic levels will be kept at a minimum level during VSP. The proponent responded that the minimum sound level would be that at which optimal data could be collected and is based on the individual well in question, the geological target, discussion with the contractor and the C-NLOPB and objectives/requirements associated with the survey. No additional sound reduction is planned by the proponent beyond keeping the seismic sound level at the minimum level possible for successful completion of the program.

KMKNO asked about the feasibility of extending the safety zone during VSP to a radius of one kilometre around the MODU given the number, status and sensitivity of species likely to be present in the area. The proponent responded that extending the safety zone would be challenging particularly during adverse weather that can cause challenges in reliably scanning the area. In addition, marine mammal observers would not be able to reliably identify species from the MODU beyond approximately 500 metres. The proponent stated that VSP surveys are of short duration and would limit starting them during periods of limited visibility.

Multiple Indigenous groups commented on the mitigation measures proposed by the proponent. KMKNO advised that vessels should be required to reduce speeds (ten knot limit) when not in existing shipping lanes or whenever a marine mammal or sea turtle is observed or reported in the vicinity of a vessel. It also recommended that the vessel traffic route link with existing shipping lanes at the earliest practicable opportunity. The proponent stated that the offshore Newfoundland area does not have prescribed speed limits or shipping lanes. Speed would be set based on environmental conditions (e.g., wind, waves), planned travel distances and awareness of other shipping traffic, and the proponent would follow operational best practices. If marine mammals and/or sea turtles are observed in close proximity to project activities, the speed or direction of the relevant vessel could be adjusted to reduce potential effects.

MTI suggested that additional mitigation measures be considered to reduce the effects of drilling activities on marine mammals (e.g., avoidance of drilling when North Atlantic Right Whales are more likely to be present [early May to mid-October]; drilling be put on hold if North Atlantic Right Whales were to be observed in close proximity to the MODU). The proponent stated that it would have an environmental protection plan that includes having an environmental observer onboard the drilling unit and that observations for marine mammals and sea turtles would be conducted during offshore activities including VSP.

MMS, Nutashkuan and MTI emphasized the importance of follow-up programs to ensure the effectiveness of mitigation measures on marine mammals, and marine species in general, and noted that the proponent did not confirm whether it intends to implement a follow-up program to verify sound predictions and effects on marine species. The proponent referenced the results of a recent study offshore eastern Newfoundland, which indicated that average sound pressure levels were below the behavioural disturbance threshold for marine mammals at 35 kilometres from the Hibernia platform. Based on recent studies, the proponent responded that uncertainty associated with predicted sound levels is low, the potential for adverse environmental effects is low and confidence in effects predictions and the effectiveness of mitigation is moderate to high. It stated that no specific follow-up related to underwater sound and related effects is planned.

A summary of issues raised by Indigenous groups is presented in Appendix C.

Public

The Agency did not receive comments from the public regarding the potential effects of the Project on marine mammals and sea turtles.

6.2.3. Agency Analysis and Conclusion

Analysis of Effects

The Project may adversely affect marine mammals and sea turtles, including species at risk. Several species of marine mammals and sea turtles could be present year-round in the project area, including in the proponent's exploration licences, while others may be present in higher abundance during summer and fall.

Potential interactions include sound from the drilling units or VSP surveys: sound emissions may potentially result in injury or mortality to marine mammals and sea turtles or affect the quality and use of their habitats. Notably, the acoustic environment is of importance to marine mammals as many species emit sound and rely, in part, on their acoustic sense for communication, social interaction, navigation, foraging and predator avoidance. The Project could result in exceedances of thresholds for both auditory injury (as far as 3.3 kilometres from an operating MODU or 9.66 kilometres from the VSP sound source) and behavioural effects (as far as 56.8 kilometres in the summer and slightly further in the winter) in marine mammals. However, auditory injury would require continuous exposure over a 24-hour period and it is not expected that marine mammals would remain in areas that could cause permanent auditory injury.

Although DFO is generally supportive of the proponent's analysis related to marine mammals and sea turtles, it advised that there is uncertainty with respect to predictions related to the extent of sound emissions from drilling units. Given this uncertainty, DFO has advised that it supports that the proponent would be required to verify sound predictions from the drilling unit.

To mitigate the effects of sound emissions from VSP activities, the proponent would follow the Statement of Canadian Practice with Respect to the Mitigation of Seismic Sound in the Marine Environment. Importantly, the proponent would be required to develop a Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Monitoring Plan and provide it to DFO for review. The proponent would be required to report the findings of monitoring to government and Indigenous groups.

The Agency notes that the Statement of Canadian Practice with Respect to the Mitigation of Seismic Sound in the Marine Environment requires the use of cetacean detection technology under certain circumstances and conditions. It states that passive acoustic monitoring or equivalent technology must be used if the full extent of a safety zone is not visible or if a survey is in an area where vocalizing cetaceans listed as endangered or threatened in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act are likely to be encountered. The Agency notes that the eastern Newfoundland offshore area is known to be foggy and to encounter rough sea states, which could hinder visibility and that species at risk, such as Northern Bottlenose Whales, have potential to occur in the project area. Based on these considerations, DFO has advised that it supports that the proponent be required to use passive acoustic monitoring or equivalent technology, noting that marine mammal species of concern for detection by this technology would include baleen whales (e.g., Blue Whale, Fin Whale, North Atlantic Right Whale), as well as beaked whales (e.g., Northern Bottlenose Whale, Sowerby's Beaked Whale), which may be detected but would be difficult to differentiate by species.

With respect to the size of the safety zone for marine mammal and sea turtle observations during VSP, the Agency notes the request from KMKNO to extend the zone beyond the 500-metre minimum required in the Statement of Canadian Practice with Respect to the Mitigation of Seismic Sound in the Marine Environment. DFO has advised that the peak threshold for auditory injury would not likely extend beyond 120 metres from the source (based on the proponent's modelling). Thresholds for auditory injury for 24 hours of sound exposure would be reached at greater distances; however, marine mammals and sea turtles would be expected to move away within a 24-hour period. As such, and given that there is no designated critical habitat within the zone of influence for project-related underwater sound from VSP, DFO has recommended the standard 500-metre minimum safety zone for this project. However, it also advised that as a precautionary measure, it would support extending the requirement for immediate shut-down of air source array(s) to include the observation of any marine mammal or sea turtle species within the 500-metre safety zone, as opposed to the minimum requirement of shut-down if a species at risk is sighted.

Marine mammals and sea turtles may be struck by project vessels, resulting in injury or mortality. Specifically, in recent years a number of North Atlantic Right Whale deaths have been reported in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The incident reports for these deaths suggested trauma from vessel collisions as one of the causes. Although there have been no incidents reported off eastern Newfoundland, the Project may contribute to an increased chance of collisions with species susceptible to strikes. DFO has advised that the Fin Whale, which is regionally abundant and listed as special concern by the Species at Risk Act, is the most frequently ship-struck whale species in the world. Other species susceptible to ship strike include the Humpback Whale, which is also regionally abundant, and the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, for which there is some uncertainty about migration routes and potential presence in the eastern Newfoundland offshore. Following consultation with DFO, the Agency is of the opinion that the slight increase in vessel traffic due to the Project would be unlikely to substantially increase the probability of collisions. As a precautionary measure, the proponent would be required to limit vessel speeds when a whale or sea turtle is observed or reported in the vicinity of a vessel. DFO has advised that it would support the requirement for vessel speed to be reduced to 7 knots (approximately 13 kilometres per hour) when within 400 metres of a marine mammal or sea turtle.

The proponent should determine whether modified or additional mitigation measures are required based on the results of their monitoring programs, including those listed above. Additional mitigation could also be prescribed by DFO should it be determined that the proponent require a permit under the Species at Risk Act.

Key Mitigation Measures to Avoid Significant Effects

The Agency considered the mitigation measures proposed by the proponent (Appendix B), expert advice from federal authorities and comments from Indigenous groups and the public and identified the following key measures to mitigate the Project's effects on marine mammals and sea turtles:

  • conduct VSP surveys in accordance with or exceeding the Statement of Canadian Practice with Respect to the Mitigation of Seismic Sound in the Marine Environment, including:
  • establishing a safety (observation) zone of a minimum of 500 metres around the sound source;
  • implementing cetacean detection technology, such as passive acoustic monitoring, concurrent with visual observations;
  • gradually increasing the sound source intensity over a period of at least 20 minutes (ramp up), adopting a pre-ramp up watch of 30 minutes whenever survey activities are scheduled to occur and delaying ramp up if a marine mammal or sea turtle is sighted within the safety zone; and
  • shutting down the sound source upon observing or detecting any marine mammal or sea turtle within the 500-metre safety zone.
  • to reduce risks of collisions with marine mammals and sea turtles (except during an emergency):
  • limit supply vessels movement to established shipping lanes where they are available; and
  • when and where such speeds do not present a risk to safety of navigation, reduce supply vessel speed to seven knots (13 kilometres per hour) when a marine mammal or sea turtle is observed or reported within 400 metres of the vessel.
  • in consultation with DFO, develop a Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Monitoring Plan which includes marine mammal observer requirements using qualified individuals. Provide the plan to the C-NLOPB and DFO for review and approval 30 days prior to initiating activities. The plan would describe:
  • monitoring during VSP, including information on visual monitoring and specific passive acoustic or equivalent technology monitoring configuration that would be implemented, to enable verification that species that may occur within the safety zone can be detected and to ensure the ability to effectively monitor for all marine mammal vocalization frequencies that may occur within the exploration licences.
  • implement all mitigation listed in Section 6.1 Fish and Fish Habitat related to abandonment procedures, chemical selection, disposal of spent synthetic-based muds and waste discharge.

Follow-up

The Agency identified the following measures as part of a follow-up program to ensure the effectiveness of mitigation measures and to verify the accuracy of predictions of effects on marine mammals and sea turtles:

  • record and report the activities, observations and results of the Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Monitoring Plan to the C-NLOPB and DFO;
  • promptly report any collisions with marine mammals or sea turtles to the C-NLOPB, DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard Environmental Emergencies Reporting Number (1 800 565-1633) and notify Indigenous groups;
  • verify predicted underwater sound levels with field measurements during the first well per exploration licence. Provide the plan on how this would be conducted to the C-NLOPB and DFO in advance of drilling and the monitoring results after well suspension or abandonment, as directed by C-NLOPB and DFO; and
  • provide follow-up program results to Indigenous groups and post online for public access.

Agency Conclusion

The Agency determined that the adverse residual environmental effects of the Project on marine mammals and sea turtles would be negligible to medium in magnitude and would occur locally, within the project area, local study area or regional study area. The effects could be both sporadic (e.g., effects from VSP surveys or from vessel collision) or regular (e.g., effects from drilling noise) for the duration of the activity but would cease upon well abandonment.

Taking into account the implementation of the mitigation measures, the Agency concludes that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on marine mammals and sea turtles.

6.3. Migratory Birds

6.3.1. Proponent's Assessment of Environmental Effects

Existing Environment

Seabirds (e.g., cormorants, gannets, phalaropes, gulls, terns and tubenoses [fulmars, petrels and shearwaters]) are the group of marine-associated birds most likely to be found in the project area. Waterfowl, divers, shorebirds and migratory and/or coastal-associated landbirds may also be found in the project area; however, most of these species tend to prefer coastal habitats and are unlikely to occur frequently in the offshore.

Several bird species at risk have been identified as potentially occurring in the regional study area, including the Ivory Gull and the Red-necked Phalarope (see Appendix D for a list of species at risk potentially occurring in the project area). The proponent also considered the presence of and effects on avian species listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species (e.g., Bermuda Petrel, White-tailed Tropicbird).

Predicted Effects

The proponent predicted the following potential interactions between the Project and migratory birds:

  • possible injury or mortality from attraction of birds to MODUs and vessels;
  • injury or behavioural effects on birds (particularly diving birds) from exposure to sound within the water column;
  • changes in the presence, abundance, distribution and/or health of birds from exposure to discharges from MODUs or vessels; and
  • indirect effects due to changes in the availability, distribution and/or quality of food or habitats from disturbances and/or discharges described above.

Key potential effects on migratory birds that may result from the above interactions are described below.

Risk of Mortality or Physical Injury Caused by Attraction to the Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit and Vessels

Migratory birds are known to be attracted to light emissions, including lighting and flares from offshore MODUs, which may result in mortality or injury through collisions or disorientation. Disoriented birds may fly continuously around lights, depleting energy resources, delaying foraging or migration and potentially increasing their susceptibility to predation. Attraction and the resultant effects may be especially pronounced during migration periods and at night or during periods of fog or reduced visibility. There is uncertainty with respect to attraction distances to lighting and flares. Attraction has been demonstrated at distances of less than two kilometres from gas flares and up to five kilometres from production facility lighting; however, attraction from distances much greater than five kilometres cannot be ruled out and up to 16kilometres away has been stated in some studies.

Leach's Storm-petrels are particularly vulnerable to light attraction and are known to make foraging trips of thousands of kilometres from nest sites during the breeding season. This is the species that is most frequently found stranded on platforms and vessels in and near the regional study area, with the vast majority of strandings occurring in September and October. However, stranded birds are often successfully released.

Potential effects from supply vessel or helicopter lighting were predicted to be similar to those from lighting on the MODU; however, since project vessels are not stationary, light disturbance would be transient and extend across a wider area along the transit route, including areas close to shore, which increases potential for attraction of coastal or land-based bird species. Any disturbance would be transient and short-term and the amount of project-related traffic is generally in keeping with the overall marine traffic that has occurred throughout the region for years and would utilize established routes wherever possible.

Changes in Health or Habitat Quality from Drilling Wastes and Other Discharges and Emissions

The treated discharge of some operational wastes may cause surface sheening, typically under calm conditions. Small amounts of oil from sheens have been shown to affect the structure and function of seabird feathers resulting in loss of buoyancy and hypothermia. Drilling wastes (e.g., cement, water- and synthetic-based muds and cuttings) would be released either at the seafloor or below the surface of the water and would not likely have any effect on birds.

Discharge, including organic wastes, could also potentially attract birds, which may increase the risk of predation, collision and exposure to contaminants or change preferred feeding areas; however, any effect would be short- to medium-term and localized and the implementation of appropriate waste disposal practices would reduce these effects.

Birds could also be displaced from habitat or otherwise disturbed as a result of other project activities, such as noise from the operation of the MODU, VSP surveys and vessel and helicopter transits. These effects are anticipated to be low or negligible in magnitude, localized and short to medium-term.

6.3.2. Views Expressed

Federal Authorities

ECCC provided information on Leach's Storm-petrel and advised that drilling operations emit considerable amounts of light and would be detectable to birds in the area, especially Leach's Storm-petrel. In particular, it raised concern regarding the presence of a new source of artificial lighting along the foraging flight path for Leach's Storm-petrel and other nocturnal seabirds. With respect to potential cumulative impacts on this species, it disagreed with the proponent's assessment methods and advised that, although the likely zone of influence of light from the Project does not overlap with the zone of influence of light from existing production platforms, the Project would create a source of light in an otherwise dark part of the North Atlantic and it would contribute to the cumulative impact of light attraction in the offshore environment as a whole.

ECCC raised concerns regarding potential mass mortality events during flaring and recommended mitigation measures. It advised that the proponent's analysis did not fully consider the episodic nature of these events and that there was limited discussion of mitigation. The proponent responded that mass mortality incidents appear to be very rare and that no mass mortality events have ever been reported at oil and gas operations offshore Newfoundland and Labrador. Nonetheless, the proponent committed to keeping flaring to the minimum amount necessary, use high efficiency burners and use water curtains. It would also conduct routine monitoring to maintain records of bird mortality to enable identification of potential issues related to flares and other lighted structures, and implement further mitigation measures if necessary and in consultation with the C-NLOPB.

ECCC advised that until an adequate estimate of strandings and mortality at offshore infrastructure is obtained, there is uncertainty as to the level of effect on migratory birds. It also provided advice and guidance on the monitoring and follow-up measures that should be implemented. The proponent acknowledged that there is only a moderate degree of certainty about the magnitude of effects from flaring and project lighting on migratory birds and committed to developing a comprehensive and scientifically rigorous program for systematic searches for stranded birds. The proponent committed to having an environmental observer trained by ECCC conduct searches daily and carefully document the search effort.

ECCC advised the Agency that the mitigation measures, monitoring and follow-up programs proposed by the proponent and recommended by the Agency would adequately address the potential effects of the Project on migratory birds.

Indigenous Peoples

Several Indigenous communities, including the NunatuKavut Community Council, MTI and KMKNO, commented on the potential effects of the Project on birds, including: effects on migration patterns and behaviour; effects on habitat from exposure to oil and other discharges and emissions; and interactions with other project components and activities.

The NunatuKavut Community Council and KMKNO expressed concern about the potential effects of flaring on birds, recommending that if there is an alternative to flaring with less environmental effect then it should be used. The proponent considered alternatives to well flow testing with flaring and has left open the possibility of using alternative well testing technology such as using a drill pipe conveyed test assembly which would eliminate the need to flare (see Section 3.2). However, several factors would need to be considered to determine if an alternative testing technology is suitable, including the properties of the reservoir, the data to be collected, C-NLOPB requirements, the suitability of the alternative technology to complete the test, the availability of the technology, and the economic viability. The C-NLOPB would ultimately determine the required methods of well testing to validate the presence of hydrocarbons. The C-NLOPB advised that using a drill pipe conveyed test assembly or other alternative formation testing technology may be possible depending on site-specific conditions and data requirements.

MTI commented on follow-up and monitoring measures proposed for birds; recommending additions, including onsite observers and use of automated sensors on platforms to reduce uncertainty about seabird attraction to platforms, mortality events and chronic spills and discharges. The proponent confirmed that an environmental observer responsible for wildlife observation and reporting would be present on the MODU and would undertake marine bird observations in accordance with ECCC's monitoring protocols and with the seabird handling permit. The proponent also considered the feasibility of incorporating technology such as radar and thermal imaging into bird monitoring but stated that given the short-term and transient nature of the Project and the fact that visual observation would already be used, these technologies are not economically or technically feasible. Given the limitations of these technologies and uncertainty of the accuracy of the collected data in offshore applications, there would be a need to compare the remotely observed data with document visual observations.

A summary of issues raised by Indigenous groups is presented in Appendix C.

Public

The Agency did not receive comments from the public regarding the potential effects of the Project on migratory birds.

6.3.3. Agency Analysis and Conclusion

Analysis of Effects

Although lighting and flaring from the Project would have the potential to affect migratory birds, the limited spatial and temporal nature of the Project would limit the potential for extensive effects on migratory birds in general. Nevertheless, the impact of creating a lit area in a previously dark area could result in adverse effects on sensitive nocturnal species such as the Leach's Storm-petrel or for those whose foraging paths overlap with the project area.

The effect of project lighting or flaring on migratory birds may be different across the regional study area. In portions of the regional study area that already experience higher levels of human activity, such as the southwestern portion where there are existing production platforms, existing sources of artificial lighting are more numerous. However, the Project would be located in a previously undisturbed area of the regional study area with few sources of artificial lighting. Introducing a new source of artificial lighting in a darker portion of the regional study area may have a comparatively larger direct effect on migratory birds than introducing an additional source of artificial lighting to an area with a large amount of existing artificial lighting. Nonetheless, the Project may also increase the cumulative effects of lighting on migratory birds by increasing the cumulative artificial lighting footprint of the offshore environment as a whole.

Bird collisions with lit structures are a known problem, particularly for nocturnal migrants and night-flying seabirds. This problem is of particular concern for Leach's Storm-petrel, which travels thousands of kilometres to foraging areas far offshore, including the project area, and which for which the project lighting would be detectable, regardless of other light sources in the area. Declines in the populations of Leach's Storm-petrel have also been partially attributed to collisions and strandings and contact with hydrocarbons. The Agency agrees with ECCC that the effects of the Project on birds, and this species in particular, would not necessarily be of low magnitude and the effects predictions cannot be made with a high level of certainty. Attraction to lights may also result in disorientation. Disoriented birds are prone to circling a light source and may deplete their energy reserves, delay foraging or migration and potentially increase susceptibility to predation. To address ECCC's concern related to uncertainty around estimates of strandings and mortality, the proponent would be required to conduct systematic searches for stranded birds on the MODU and supply vessels and to have trained observers on MODUs to observe and report on marine bird presence. Based on these monitoring results and in consultation with relevant authorities, the proponent would then determine if mitigation measures are effective and if additional mitigation measures are required.

Flaring could also have an effect on birds and alternatives should be considered. Alternative formation testing technology, such as using a drill pipe conveyed test assembly could eliminate the requirement to flare. The C-NLOPB advised that use of a drill pipe conveyed test assembly may be possible depending on site-specific conditions and data requirements, and the proponent would be required to use such a method for well flow testing where acceptable to the C-NLOPB. However, if flaring is proposed, the C-NLOPB's Measures to Protect and Monitor Seabirds in Petroleum-Related Activity in the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Area require the proponent to notify the C-NLOPB of plans to flare including measures to avoid potential effects on migratory birds. Prior to authorizing the flaring, the C-NLOPB would consult with ECCC on the plans and appropriateness of proposed mitigation measures, which may include delaying or altering the timing of the flaring activity.

The Agency notes that the proponent would deploy water curtains during flaring operations to protect the MODU from the generated heat. Water curtains have been required for exploratory drilling projects in offshore Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Although the effectiveness of water curtains in mitigating potential effects from flaring on migratory birds is not fully known, the Agency is of the view that such measures would provide an overall net benefit and would likely keep some birds away from the flare. The proponent would also be required to develop a follow-up program which would include documenting and reporting information on whether the mitigation measures, including the water curtain, were proven effective.

The Agency is of the view that there remain uncertainties regarding the potential effects of project lighting and flaring on migratory birds, including the attraction distance to lighting and flares as well as mortality rates from collisions and strandings and the magnitude of associated effects. Despite these uncertainties and the potential for cumulative effects, the exploration licences and the drilling area itself occupy a small portion of the ranges of migratory bird species, many of which span vast portions of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. There is no critical habitat identified within the proponent's exploration licences and the Agency notes that key western Atlantic migration routes and flyways are generally closer to the coast than further offshore where the Project would take place. In addition, drilling, evaluation and abandonment or suspension of each well would take approximately 45 to 160 days, limiting the duration of the potential effects. Nevertheless, it is possible that migratory birds, including species at risk, could encounter and be harmed by the Project; therefore, it is important for the proponent to implement mitigation and verify their predictions.

In addition to the effects of project lighting and flaring, drilling wastes and other discharges and emissions may effect migratory birds. For example, the treated discharge of some operational wastes may cause surface sheening under calm conditions and may affect the structure and function of seabird feathers. Wastes would be treated in accordance with the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines and discharged below the water surface, limiting the effects on surface water quality in the immediate area of the discharge. With proper management of waste discharge, the likelihood of exposure to surface sheens by marine and migratory birds and any related effects would be low.

Key Mitigation Measures to Avoid Significant Effects

The Agency considered the mitigation measures proposed by the proponent (Appendix B), expert advice from federal authorities and comments from Indigenous groups and the public, and identified the following key measures to mitigate the Project's effects on migratory birds:

  • follow ECCC's (2016) Procedures for Handling and Documenting Stranded Birds Encountered on Infrastructure Offshore Atlantic Canada, which identifies procedures for safe capture and handling of different types of birds;
  • control project lighting, including the direction, timing, intensity and glare of light fixtures, while meeting operational, health and safety requirements;
  • restrict flaring to the minimum required to characterize a well's hydrocarbon potential and as necessary for the safety of the operation;
  • where acceptable to the C-NLOPB, conduct formation testing using a drill pipe conveyed test assembly or similar technology rather than formation testing with flaring;
  • if formation testing while flaring is required, notify the C-NLOPB to request an authorization at least 30 days in advance of flaring to:
  • determine whether the flaring would occur during a period of migratory bird vulnerability (identified in consultation with ECCC); and
  • identify how adverse environmental effects on migratory birds would be avoided, including opportunities to reduce nighttime flaring (e.g., by starting flaring for shorter periods in the morning as opposed to at night);
  • operate a water-curtain barrier around the flare during flaring; and
  • implement all mitigation listed in Section 6.1 Fish and Fish Habitat related to chemical selection, waste discharge and the disposal of spent synthetic-based muds, as well as those in Section 6.4 Special Areas related to the maintenance of buffers for supply and support vessels and helicopters over active bird areas and special areas for birds.

Follow-up

The Agency identified the following measures as part of a follow-up program to ensure the effectiveness of mitigation measures and to verify the accuracy of predictions of effects on migratory birds:

  • prepare a follow-up program in consultation with ECCC to monitor effects on migratory birds to verify the accuracy of the predictions made during the EA and to determine the effectiveness of the mitigation measures. As part of the follow-up program:
  • conduct monitoring for marine birds from the MODU using a trained observer following ECCC's Eastern Canada Seabirds at Sea Standardized Protocol for Pelagic Seabird Surveys from Moving and Stationary Platforms;
  • develop, in consultation with ECCC, and implement a protocol for systematic daily monitoring of the MODU and supply vessels for the presence of stranded birds. The protocol would include information on the frequency of searches, reporting procedures and training requirements, including qualifications of those delivering the training;
  • if stranded birds are observed, follow ECCC's (2016) Procedures for Handling and Documenting Stranded Birds Encountered on Infrastructure Offshore Atlantic Canada;
  • document and report the results of any monitoring carried out, including information on the level of effort when no birds are found and a discussion of whether the mitigation measures (e.g., water curtain) were proven effective and if additional measures are required; and
  • provide the monitoring and follow-up program and its results to the C-NLOPB and ECCC. Results should be provided to Indigenous groups and posted online for public access.

Agency Conclusion

The Agency determined that the adverse residual environmental effects of the Project on migratory birds would generally be low in magnitude but could be moderate for certain species, such as Leach's Storm-petrel. Residual adverse effects would either be localized within the immediate vicinity of the project activity or component or could extend several kilometres for effects such as those from light emissions. The effects would be short term to medium term for the presence and operation of the MODU and would occur regularly or intermittently for the duration of the Project but would cease upon well abandonment.

Taking into account the implementation of the mitigation measures, the Agency concludes that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on migratory birds.

6.4. Special Areas

6.4.1. Proponent's Assessment of Environmental Effects

Existing Environment

Special areas (designated because of ecologically or biologically sensitive features) which overlap with the proponent's exploration licences and/or the potential transit route, as well as those within the zone of influence, are listed in Table 4.footnote 12 The zone of influence is defined as a 57-kilometre buffer around the exploration licences and represents the predicted maximum distance at which behavioural effects on marine mammals related to underwater sound may occur. This zone of influence is inclusive of the zones of influence for light (16 kilometres) and drill cuttings dispersion (700 metres by 260 metres maximum area with sediment thickness over 1.5 millimetres). A common defining feature of several of these special areas is the presence of important benthic habitats such as sponge and coral grounds, which are particularly sensitive because of their high biological activity and slow recovery rates. Other special areas include marine habitats for bird, fish, mammal and sea turtle species. Appendix E lists all special areas in the regional study area.

Oil and gas exploration activities are not prohibited within the special areas that overlap with the exploration licences.

Table 4: Special Areas Within the Zone of Influencefootnote 13 of Routine Project Activities
Special Area Distance from Closest Exploration Licence Features of the Special Area
Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas1
Northeast Slope (3L) 54 kilometres from exploration licence 1144 and overlaps with transit route High aggregations of Greenland Halibut and Spotted Wolfish, which congregate in spring. Concentrations of cetaceans, pinnipeds and corals.
Eastern Avalon Overlaps with transit route Capelin spawning beaches, waterfowl areas and fish-eating seabird colonies (Northern Fulmar, Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Murres, Thick-billed Murres) (Wells et al., 2019). Cetaceans including Killer Whales and mysticetes (Wells et al., 2019), leatherback turtles and seals feed in the area from spring to fall.
Important Bird Areas2
Quidi Vidi Lake Overlaps with transit route Important daytime resting site for gulls. Waterfowl are common in winter.
Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves Bioregion Significant Benthic Areas3
Large Gorgonian Corals Overlaps with transit route High predicted presence probability for significant concentration of large gorgonian corals.
United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas4
Slopes of the Flemish Cap and Grand Banks Overlaps with exploration licences 1144 and 1150 and transit route Includes NAFO closures to protect corals and sponges and a component of Greenland Halibut fishery grounds in international waters. Contains a high diversity of marine taxa, including threatened and listed species.
NAFO Fisheries Closure Areas5
Flemish Pass /Eastern Canyon (2) 15 kilometres from exploration licence 1144 Closed to protect extensive sponge grounds and large gorgonian corals (i.e., marine fish and fish habitat).
Northwest Flemish Cap (10) 6 kilometres from exploration licences 1144 and 1150

Closed to protect high coral and sponge concentrations (e.g., crinoids, cerianthids and black corals). Includes sea pen fields, which serve as habitat structure in low-relief sand and mud. Habitats provide refuge for small planktonic and benthic invertebrates.

Northwest Flemish Cap (11) Overlaps with exploration licence 1150
Northwest Flemish Cap (12)

52 kilometres from exploration licence 1150

 

1 Under Canadian jurisdiction through pieces of legislation and other processes.

2 Identified by BirdLife International under program to identify and protect critical bird habitats.

3 Identified by DFO under its Sustainable Fisheries Framework and the policies within, including the Policy for Managing the Impacts of Fishing on Sensitive Benthic Areas.

4 Identified by United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

5 Under mandate of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and NAFO.

Predicted Effects

The potential environmental effects of routine project activities on special areas that overlap with the exploration licences, as well as those within the zones of influence for effects, were assessed (Figure 2).

Adverse environmental effects on a special area could degrade its ecological integrity such that it no longer protects the components of the ecosystem for which it was designated (e.g., protection of sensitive or commercially important species). The key potential environmental issues and potential environmental changes to special areas as a result of the Project are as follows:

  • the general presence of project components (MODUs, vessels, other equipment) and activities in the offshore environment, including sound, light and other associated disturbances;
  • possible effects on water quality and on the seabed (benthic) environment due to physical disturbance of the substrate (and associated sedimentation), the discharge and deposition of drill cuttings and fluids and other potential environmental emissions during planned activities; and
  • potential changes in the presence, abundance, diversity and health of marine biota in the area due to potential injury or mortality, or possible behavioral effects. This may include temporary avoidance of areas by marine fish, birds, mammals and sea turtles due to underwater sound or other disturbances, which may alter their presence and abundance as well as disturbing movements/migration, feeding or other activities. There may also be attraction of marine fish, birds, mammals and sea turtles to MODUs and vessels, with increased potential for injury, mortality, contamination or other interactions (e.g., collisions).

Additional information on the effects of project activities within special areas on associated valued components are provided in Sections 6.1, 6.2, 6.3 and 6.6.

Figure 2: Special Areas Intersecting the Zones of Influence for Environmental Effects

Figure 2: Special Areas Intersecting the Zones of Influence for Environmental Effects

Source: CNOOC Petroleum North America ULC

6.4.2. Views Expressed

Federal Authorities

DFO requested clarification on where the greatest concentration of marine mammals can be found in the regional study area. The proponent clarified that marine mammal sightings data, as presented in the EIS, is useful to show the general range of species but cannot be used to infer absolute abundance and density. It stated that the greatest concentrations of marine mammals within the regional study area tend to be found in high-use foraging areas, such as the Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas.

DFO and ECCC advised that the mitigation measures, monitoring and follow-up programs proposed by the proponent as well as those recommended by the Agency would adequately address the potential effects of the Project on special areas.

Indigenous Peoples

Qalipu First Nation and KMKNO expressed concern about the effects of project related activities on special areas that are adjacent to or overlap with the project area, in particular with respect to sponges and corals as they are easily disturbed and slow to recover. NunatuKavut Community Council also suggested that buffer zones around protected areas should be considered as a means to reduce effects on special areas. The proponent maintained that proposed mitigation measures, including conducting pre-drill surveys and implementing setbacks, would protect special areas and species within these areas.

A summary of issues raised by Indigenous groups is presented in Appendix C.

Public

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union noted that a small area of exploration licence 1150 is closed to bottom fishing and it recommended that closures intended to focus on marine conservation must restrict all marine industrial activities.

6.4.3. Agency Analysis and Conclusion

Analysis of Effects

Ninefootnote 14 special areas that have been identified because of ecologically or biologically significant features overlap with the proponent's exploration licences, the potential transit route or are within 57 kilometres of the exploration licences (i.e., the predicted zone of influence for behavioural effects on marine mammals related to sound).footnote 15 A number of these special areas are protected, at least in part, based on the presence of sensitive benthic features, including aggregations of corals and sponges. These features could be affected by the Project, most notably from local sedimentation and burial due to discharge of drilling muds and cuttings (refer to Section6.1 for information on how sensitive benthic features could be affected by drilling waste). The proponent predicted that drill cuttings deposition would exceed the most conservative no-effect threshold over a maximum area of approximately 700 metres by 260 metres around the wellhead. Benthic features within special areas that are located more than 700 metres from the exploration licences or that overlap only with the transit route are not expected to be affected by the Project.

All of exploration licence 1144 and 65percent of exploration licence 1150 overlap with the Slopes of the Flemish Cap and Grand Banks Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area. In addition to having a high diversity of marine species and encompassing all of the current NAFO Fisheries Closure Areas designated to protect corals and sponges, this area is believed to provide a plentiful food source for Northern Bottlenose Whales and Greenland Halibut. In addition, this is the only known area in international waters of the Northwest Atlantic where sponge grounds and sea pen concentrations have been identified, including a new species of Dictyaulus sponge identified in 2013 (UN Environment, n.d.).

Exploration licences 1144 and 1150 are relatively large (combined area of approximately 3326square kilometres) and drilled wells would result in comparatively limited footprints and zones of potential effects. Further, taken in the context of the much larger area of the Slopes of the Flemish Cap and Grand Banks Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area (approximately 88000 square kilometres), the exploration licences cover less than four percent of this area and the potential effects of the Project within this special area would be comparatively limited.

The Northwest Flemish Cap NAFO Fisheries Closure Area (11), is entirely located with exploration licence 1150. However, this area is only a portion of the larger Northwest Flemish Cap NAFO Fisheries Closure Area, which is a special area comprised of three discontinuous smaller areas and which was designated to protect high coral and sponge concentrations. The portion located in exploration licence 1150 is only 60 square kilometres compared to the 1696 square kilometre area of exploration licence 1150; however, as noted above, the predicted maximum area of drill cuttings deposition above the most conservative no-effect threshold would not be more than 0.182 square kilometres, which represents a relatively small portion of the special area. Furthermore, the proponent would undertake seabed investigation surveys prior to drilling to determine the presence of sensitive features so that, if technically feasible, it could relocate the well and/or redirect discharges so sensitive features would not be affected.

The Agency is of the view that key mitigation measures for fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1) and marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2) would also mitigate the potential effects within the Slopes of the Flemish Cap and Grand Banks Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area, the Northwest Flemish Cap (11) NAFO Fisheries Closure Area, as well other special areas which may have overlap with the project effects. The Agency notes advice from DFO that habitat-forming aggregations of corals and sponges are not limited to designated special areas and that protections for these features should not be limited to or more robust within special areas. It recommended that coral and sponge surveys and associated site-specific mitigation planning be consistently applied to ensure protection of sensitive benthic habitat at every well site, regardless of special area designation.

As outlined in Section 6.1, the proponent would be required to conduct benthic surveys prior to drilling to determine the presence of aggregations of habitat-forming corals or sponges or any other environmentally sensitive features. Should these features be identified, the proponent would be required to relocate the well and/or redirect discharges to ensure that sensitive features would not be affected, unless not technically feasible. If it is determined that it is not technically feasible to relocate the well or redirect cuttings discharges, the proponent would be required to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the benthic habitat in consultation with DFO and the C-NLOPB prior to drilling to determine the potential for serious harm or alteration of coral and sponge aggregations and related options for mitigation to reduce any identified risks.

In addition to the mitigation measures that would be consistently applied across all areas of the exploration licences, the proponent would also be required to conduct specific follow-up monitoring when drilling in or adjacent to a special area.

Taking into account these mitigation and follow-up measures, DFO has advised that potential effects to benthic habitat, including within special areas, would likely be negligible.

Other special areas that could be affected by the Project are protected, at least in part, based on the important habitat they provide for migratory birds. For instance, Cape St. Francis and Witless Bay Islands Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas, located within the Eastern Avalon Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area, are approximately 23 and 32 kilometres, respectively, from St. John's, the terminus of the transit route. As described in Section 6.3, helicopters and supply vessels may disrupt birds along the transit route or coastal seabird colonies. Generally, the Agency is of the view that key mitigation measures for migratory birds (Section 6.3) would also mitigate the effects on this and other special areas and the migratory birds found within. ECCC guidelines state that helicopters and other aircraft should keep well away from breeding colonies and that vessels should generally keep a minimum distance of 300 metres from colonies. ECCC further advised that the colonies of greatest concern are the coastal Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas in closest proximity to St.John's. In consideration of those guidelines and the input from ECCC, unless there is an emergency situation, the proponent would be prohibited from operating aircraft over the Witless Bay Islands Important Bird and Biodiversity Area at an altitude of less than 300 metres or motorized vessels within 20 to 100 metres of the area during the nesting season as per Newfoundland and Labrador's Seabird Ecological Reserve Regulations, 2015. Supply vessels would use common vessel travel routes where they exist and would not be in the immediate vicinity of either the Cape St. Francis and Witless Bay Islands Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas.

Key Mitigation Measures to Avoid Significant Effects

The Agency considered the mitigation measures proposed by the proponent (Appendix B), expert advice from federal authorities and comments from Indigenous groups and the public. The Agency expects that mitigation measures proposed for fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), and migratory birds (Section 6.3) would also mitigate potential effects on special areas. The Agency identified the following additional key measures to mitigate the Project's effects on special areas:

  • restrict helicopter flying altitude to a minimum altitude of 300 metres (except during take-off and landing) over active bird colonies and to a lateral distance of 1000 metres from Cape St. Francis and Witless Bay Islands Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (unless there is an emergency situation); and
  • ensure supply and other support vessels maintain a 300-metre buffer from Cape St. Francis and Witless Bay Islands Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (unless there is an emergency situation).

Follow-up

The Agency identified the following measures as part of a follow-up program, to be developed in consultation with C-NLOPB and DFO, to ensure the effectiveness of mitigation measures and to verify the accuracy of predictions of effects on special areas:

  • conduct specific follow-up monitoring when drilling in special areas, or adjacent to or near a special area, such that drill cuttings dispersion modelling predicts that cuttings deposition could occur within the special area at level above the biological effects threshold. Monitoring would include:
  • measurement of sediment deposition extent and thickness post-drilling and prior to departing the location to verify drill cuttings dispersion modelling predictions;
  • survey of benthic fauna present after drilling has been concluded;
  • reporting of results, including a comparison of modelling results to in situ results, to the C-NLOPB and DFO; and
  • results should be provided to Indigenous groups and posted online for public access;
  • implement all mitigation listed in Section 6.1 Fish and Fish Habitat, Section 6.2 Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles, Section 6.3 Migratory Birds and Section 6.6 Commercial Fisheries.

Agency Conclusion

The Agency determined that the adverse residual environmental effects of the Project on special areas would be low-magnitude, occur locally and occur continuously or regularly during drilling operations but would cease upon well abandonment.

Taking into account the implementation of the mitigation measures, the Agency concludes that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on special areas.

6.5. Species at Risk

6.5.1. Proponent's Assessment of Environmental Effects

Several fish, marine mammal, sea turtle and bird species at risk protected by the Species at Risk Act or by COSEWIC have been identified as potentially occurring in the regional study area (see Appendix D for a list of species at risk potentially occurring in the eastern Newfoundland offshore area, including the project area). The proponent also considered species listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Several of these species may be found in the project area year-round, while others may be present only during certain times of year on a transient basis or be unlikely visitors. For example, many of the identified bird species at risk are shorebirds and land birds, which would not regularly be found in the project area but could be present during fall migration.

The Species at Risk Act requires the implementation of management plans, recovery strategies and/or action plans, depending on the category of risk, for species listed as at risk on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. These documents describe the potential threats to the species, habitats and actions required to ensure protection of the species. The proponent took into consideration threats identified in recovery strategies, action plans and management plans and the contribution of the Project to these threats.

The proponent stated that there is no critical habitat for fish, birds, marine mammals or sea turtles in or near the project area. Further, the proponent predicted that the type and nature of the potential effects of the Project on species at risk would be the same as those effects which were assessed in previous sections of the report (i.e., Section 6.1 Fish and Fish Habitat, Section 6.2 Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles, Section 6.3 Migratory Birds).

6.5.2. Views Expressed

Federal Authorities

ECCC and DFO provided advice and comments related to fish and fish habitat, marine mammals and sea turtles, and migratory birds, including information applicable to species at risk and their critical habitat.

DFO required additional information on potential for occurrence and Project interactions with fish species at risk, including a specific assessment of the potential effects of the Project on lumpfish, Smooth Skate (Laurentian-Scotian population), White Hake Cusk, American Plaice and Spiny Dogfish. The proponent provided further information and considered effects on these species.

DFO also required additional information on marine mammals and sea turtles at risk, including seasonal movement patterns and migration corridors, and an analysis of potential effects of the Project on Fin, Killer and Northern Bottlenose Whales and Harbour Porpoise, considering their high or moderate likelihood of occurrence in the project area. The proponent stated that the effects of project activities on these species would not differ from those discussed for marine mammals in general, including effects related to underwater noise, vessel strikes or contaminants.

DFO required the proponent to provide a description of threats identified in applicable recovery strategies and action plans, as well as the contribution of the Project to these threats. The proponent indicated that identified threats for marine mammal and sea turtle species included contaminants, anthropogenic disturbances (physical presence and noise), degradation of habitat, vessel strikes and toxic spills. The proponent noted that the potential for each of these interactions was considered in the effects assessment. The proponent also pointed out that strategies and plans for marine and/or migratory birds identified several major threats that may be associated with project activities: chronic oil pollution from oil and gas exploration and production, habitat loss and degradation (i.e., from oil or contaminant spills) and collision with anthropogenic structures.

ECCC and DFO reviewed the assessments of effects on species at risk and critical habitat provided by the proponent. The departments confirmed that the potential effects on species at risk would be the same as those effects described for fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2) and migratory birds (Section 6.3), and that the information provided satisfies requirements under Subsection 79(2) of the Species at Risk Act. ECCC and DFO advised the Agency that the mitigation measures, monitoring and follow-up programs proposed by the proponent as well as those recommended by the Agency would adequately address the potential effects of the Project on species at risk.

Indigenous Peoples

Select comments from Indigenous groups related to marine fish (including Atlantic Salmon), marine mammals and sea turtles and migratory birds, including applicable species at risk, are included in Sections 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3. Indigenous groups provided comments on a variety of matters including: monitoring and follow-up; the reporting of injured individuals of bird species at risk; monitoring of water quality to determine potential contamination of species at risk; and whether pre-drill surveys for sensitive species would include identification of species at risk.

A summary of issues raised by Indigenous groups is presented in Appendix C.

Public

The Agency did not receive comments from the public regarding the potential effects of the Project on species at risk.

6.5.3. Agency Analysis and Conclusion

Analysis of Effects

Federal species at risk are those that are listed in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act as extirpated, endangered, threatened or of special concern. For this EA, and as a matter of good practice, the Agency also considered species that have been identified by COSEWIC as being endangered, threatened or of special concern. Collectively, these are referred to as species at risk for the purposes of this EA.

The Agency examined the Project's potential effects on species listed under Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act and species identified by COSEWIC (Appendix D). The Agency relied on advice and input from DFO and ECCC, which are the lead federal agencies for administering the Species at Risk Act within their respective areas of responsibility (i.e., aquatic species and birds). Based on this input, the Agency is in agreement with the proponent that potential effects on species at risk would be the same as those effects described for fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), and migratory birds (Section 6.3).

While there is no critical habitat for any species at risk within the project area, there is proposed critical habitat for Northern and Spotted Wolffish within the regional study area. The amended Recovery Strategy for the Northern Wolffish and Spotted Wolffish and Management Plan for Atlantic Wolffish, published in 2018, identifies proposed critical habitats for Northern and Spotted Wolffish. Exploration licence 1144 is the nearest to the proposed critical habitat; at the closest point, it is located approximately 50 kilometres from the proposed Northern Wolffish and Spotted Wolffish critical habitats.footnote 16 At this minimum distance from any potential well site, the proposed critical habitat is outside the predicted zones of influence for drill cuttings dispersion (i.e., a maximum of 700 metres from the well site for cuttings deposition thickness above the most conservative no-effects threshold) and noise effects on fish and fish habitat (i.e., approximately 1.2 kilometres from source for sub-lethal effects of seismic sound on zooplankton; refer to Section 6.1.2 for more information). DFO advised that any potential effects on proposed critical habitat are predicted to be negligible.

Key Mitigation Measures to Avoid Significant Effects

The Agency determined that the measures to mitigate potential effects on fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), and migratory birds (Section 6.3) would also mitigate potential effects on species at risk and critical habitat.

Follow-up

The Agency determined that the proposed follow-up measures for fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), and migratory birds (Section 6.3.) are also appropriate for the species at risk and proposed critical habitat identified in this section.

Agency Conclusion

Taking into account the implementation of the mitigation measures described for fish and fish habitat (Section6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), and migratory birds (Section 6.3), the Agency concludes that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on federal species at risk.

6.6. Commercial Fisheries

6.6.1. Proponent's Assessment of Environmental Effects

Existing Environment

Commercial fishing is an important component of the socioeconomic environment in Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere in Atlantic Canada. Offshore Newfoundland and Labrador fishing activity and location vary throughout the year, depending on several factors. While some fisheries within the project area are open year-round, others have fairly well-defined seasons. Exploration licences 1155 and 1150 and the project area as well as portions of the local and regional study area are located outside Canada's exclusive economic zone. As such, there is Canadian domestic (inside and outside the exclusive economic zone) and international fisheries (outside the exclusive economic zone) occurring in the regional study area. Average harvest between 2007 and 2016 from the international fishery, including harvest by Canadian harvesters, overlapping with the regional study area and exploration licences was 96741 tonnes, of which 66.5 percent was harvested by Canada.

The commercial domestic fisheries occurring offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, operating primarily inside Canada's exclusive economic zone and on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap (see Figure3), include those targeting groundfish, pelagics, shellfish and other invertebrates. In the commercial domestic fishery the average quantity of harvest between 2010 and 2015 was 16 290 tonnes in the project area and adjacent areas. Of this, Snow Crab and Northern Shrimp were the predominantly harvested species, making up approximately 97 percent of the total harvest quantity. Harvest from the project area and adjacent areas also included Greenland Halibut, redfish, Atlantic Herring and Atlantic Cod. Groundfish (Atlantic Halibut, American Plaice, Greysole Flounder) and pelagics (capelin) were harvested in the adjacent areas.

For conservation reasons, the shrimp fisheries in NAFO Divisions 3L and 3M, which overlap the project area, have been halted; however, it is possible that some level of shrimp harvest in these divisions might be reinstated within the temporal scope of the Project. The broader regional study area, has an important component of lobster and other shellfish harvest from coastal waters. In addition, aquaculture facilities are located at various sites around the Newfoundland coast, particularly within Notre Dame Bay.

Figure 3 illustrates domestic commercial harvesting locations off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador between 2010 and 2015.

Figure 3: Domestic (Canadian) Harvesting Locations, All Species, 2010-2015footnote 17

Domestic (Canadian) Harvesting Locations, All Species

Source: CNOOC Petroleum North America ULC

Five Indigenous groups in Newfoundland and Labrador hold communal commercial fishing licencesfootnote 18 for a variety of species that overlap with the project area. Licences include those for inshore and mid-shore groundfish, seal, shrimp, tuna, swordfish, Snow Crab and a pelagic fishery access (herring, mackerel, capelin) which occurs close to shore.

Most Indigenous groups located in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island that are listed in Section 4 hold communal commercial licences within the regional study area, including licences for groundfish, tuna, lobster, swordfish and eel. Of these groups, several hold communal commercial licences for swordfish in areas that overlap with the project area. However, based on landings data from DFO (2011 to 2015), there were no reported landings of swordfish originating from the project area by these groups during this time.

The landings and harvest information presented above includes communal commercial fishing from Indigenous communities.

Predicted Effects

The proponent identified the following potential interactions:

  • potential temporary loss of access to established fishing grounds due to Project activities and components, and a resulting decrease in value (economic or otherwise) of these fishing activities;
  • possibility of damage to fishing gear, vessels, equipment or other components due to interactions between Project vessels, equipment, emissions or discharges and fishing activities;
  • possibility of interference with scheduled government/industry fisheries research activities, which might also affect research results and associated management decisions;
  • possibility of price implications resulting from market or consumer perception of a reduced quality of fish products (e.g., taint); and
  • possibility of indirect effects on fisheries due to changes in the abundance, distribution or availability of fish species on established fishing grounds.

Access to traditionally used fishing areas can be restricted during exploration drilling through the presence of the safety exclusion zone. During drilling, a safety exclusion zone would be established around the MODU within which commercial fishing and non-project-related vessels and activities would be excluded. The proponent stated that factors that that are considered in determining the size of the safety zone include forecast seasonal weather, sea state severity, water depths, supporting operational activities including additional support vessels and mooring/anchor pattern, if applicable. The proponent stated that as per the Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Drilling and Production Regulations and the Collision Regulations, the minimum size for a safety exclusion zone for a MODU installation that utilizes dynamic positioning to remain on station over the well location is a 500-metre radius from the outer edge of the MODU. If anchors are utilized, the Collision Regulations state that the safety zone must extend 50 metres beyond the boundaries of the anchor pattern of the installation, which could extend the safety zone to 1000 metres or possibly further. The exclusion zone would be in place for the duration of each well drilled. In certain instances, an additional short-term safety exclusion zone would be established if wellhead removal were to occur at a later date. The proponent noted that assuming the maximum-case, 1000-metre radius safety exclusion zone and up to three MODUs in effect at the same time, the area excluded would be less that 0.2 percent of the project area/local study area and less than 0.0008 percent of the regional study area. While a safety exclusion zone would limit the potential for direct interactions between project activities and commercial fishing, it would temporarily restrict fishing in these areas.

The temporary restriction of access to fishing grounds has the potential to temporarily decrease fishing efficiency or increase costs to fishing in the immediate area as harvesters redirect effort to other grounds and/or vessels navigate around the zone. In addition to the small area affected, the proponent stated that the project area has little domestic commercial fishing compared to other parts of the local study area, regional study area and Grand Banks generally. Further, most harvest in the project area has been conducted using mobile gear, which can maneuver easily around small closed areas. As such, a lower proportion of fish harvesters or incomes may have the potential to be affected.

Project components including wellhead abandonment or temporary suspension, VSP and supply and servicing have the potential to negatively interact with fishing gear. Following drilling and testing at each site, wells would be abandoned or suspended. When abandoning a well, there are a number of factors that are considered when deciding on the removal of a wellhead, including water depth, well design, wellhead design, weather conditions/sea state and availability to participate in wellhead removal campaign with other oil and gas companies. Wellheads that are left in place may protrude above the seafloor and may interact with bottom tending mobile fishing gear, which could result in damage and lost time or catch. The proponent stated that if a wellhead were to be cut above the seafloor, the planned maximum height of wellhead remaining above the seafloor would be 0.85 metres.

6.6.2. Views Expressed

Federal Authorities

The Agency requested information related to the size of the safety exclusion zone. The proponent stated that while the 500-metre radius safety exclusion zone would be the minimum required, most MODUs have been able to operate within this requirement. The proponent does not expect to require a larger than 500-metre safety zone, as it is are not proposing to use more than one MODU and is currently proposing deeper water well locations which would require dynamic positioning and not anchor installation but the decision would be made prior to drilling.

DFO advised the Agency that the mitigation measures, monitoring and follow-up programs proposed by the proponent and recommended by the Agency would adequately address the potential effects of the Project on commercial fishing.

Indigenous Peoples

Sipekne'katik First Nation, KMKNO and Nunastiavut Government asked about the involvement of Indigenous groups in the development of the proposed compensation programs for damaged or lost fishing gear. In addition, Sipekene'katik First Nation noted that there are several differences between communal commercial licences and the commercial licences, requesting that the proponent consider these differences in the development and implementation of the compensation program. The proponent confirmed that the Fishing Gear Damage or Loss Compensation Program would be drafted in accordance applicable C-NLOPB requirements and would be provided to Indigenous groups for review and comment prior to finalizing. The proponent confirmed that while discussion of the compensation program referred to "commercial fishing equipment", the intent is not to exclude harvesting equipment used by rights holders and would include similar provisions for damage to Indigenous groups fishing equipment, commercial or otherwise in the program.

KMKNO requested further information on the proponent's proposed Indigenous Communities Fisheries Communication Plan, including information on ongoing engagement throughout the life of the Project and mechanisms for adaptive management. The proponent stated that the plan may include, among other things, a process and measures to ensure that issues and concerns can be raised by Indigenous groups during the life of the Project. It also intends that the Plan would be designed to be responsive throughout the life of the Project and contain a mechanism that ensures adaptive management measures can be taken if required. The proponent confirmed that Indigenous groups would be given the opportunity to review and provide comments on the Indigenous Communities Fisheries Communication Plan before it is finalized.

Additional comments from Indigenous groups related to the need for research for fish and fish habitat, including species targeted by commercial fisheries. Comments about the potential effects on fish and fish habitat are discussed in Section 6.1 Fish and Fish Habitat.

A summary of issues raised by Indigenous groups is presented in Appendix C.

Public

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union requested information about the timing of wellhead removal and potential effects and concerns of temporarily leaving a wellhead in place following initial drilling. Information related to statistics of damage to fishing gear due to the presence of wellheads, if available was also requested. The proponent stated that most exploration and appraisal wells would be permanently abandoned as part of the initial drilling program; however, wellheads could be left in place for one or two years following drilling and in rare cases may remain in place for the duration of the exploration/appraisal phase of the Project. The timing of wellhead removal would be based on the availability of equipment, time of year the well was drilled and water depth. Information on wellheads left in place would be communicated to commercial fishers other marine users and the appropriate authorities through Notice to Mariners for inclusion on nautical charts. The proponent stated that it was not aware of any issues regarding wellheads left in place offshore Newfoundland and Labrador or Nova Scotia based on discussions with regulators, fishing industry representatives and companies involved in administering vessel and gear damage programs.

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union commented on the potential physical and socioeconomic effects of the Project on commercial fisheries, including consideration of cumulative effects. Concerns included restricted access to fishing areas and the need to alter fishing to mitigate issues related to increased traffic.

6.6.3. Agency Analysis and Conclusion

Analysis of the Effects

Commercial fishing is a key economic activity offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, including domestic fisheries for groundfish, pelagics, shellfish and other invertebrates. The extent of commercial fishing varies between areas in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore, as illustrated in Figure 3. There has been little domestic and international harvest recorded within the project area and less within the exploration licence boundaries relative to other areas on or around the Grand Banks. However, it should be noted that harvest locations are influenced by a variety of factors and could occur in different areas in future.

Potential effects of the Project on commercial fisheries include loss of access to fishing grounds, damage to fishing gear, vessels or equipment, interference with surveys and research that support fisheries management, as well as potential effects on fish and fish habitat affecting commercial fisheries. The potential effects of the Project on fish and fish habitat are described in Section 6.1; these are predicted to be low in magnitude, temporary and localized.

Loss of access to fishing grounds could occur if fishers were displaced by safety exclusion zones that would be created around the MODU. Portions of NAFO Divisions 3L and 3M overlap with the exploration licences included in the Project. Only a fraction of NAFO Divisions overlap with applicable exploration licences and only a fraction of this overlapping area would be affected by safety exclusion zones (Table5). Further, as the proponent is proposing to utilize only one MODU and to drill in deeper water locations that would require dynamic position and not a moored MODU, the safety zone would likely be limited to a 500-metre radius, smaller than if a moored MODU was used.

Table 5: Area and Overlap between Exploration Licences 1144 and 1150, NAFO Divisions and Safety Exclusion Zones
Area and Overlap CNOOC Exploration Drilling Project
Total Area of Exploration Licences (1144 and 1150) 3326 square kilometres
NAFO Division(s) overlapping with Exploration Licences 3L, 3M
Size of NAFO Division(s) that overlap with Exploration Licences 623941.92 square kilometres
Size of Safety Exclusion Zone for Single MODU 0.785 square kilometres or 3.14 square kilometres
Combined Size of Exclusion Zones for Two MODUs (not contiguous) 1.57 square kilometres or 6.28 square kilometres
Percentage of NAFO Division(s) that would Overlap with Exploration Licences 0.53 percent
Percentage of NAFO Division(s) that would Overlap with One Safety Exclusion Zone 0.000123 percent or 0.000503 percent
Percentage of NAFO Division(s) that would Overlap with Two Safety Exclusion Zones 0.000246 percent or 0.001 percent
Calculation ranges are based on a minimum safety exclusion zone with a 500-metre radius and a maximum radius of 1000 metres.

In addition to loss of access for commercial harvesters, project activities have the potential to restrict access for fisheries science research surveys conducted by DFO and ongoing or planned industry surveys. However, with ongoing communication between the proponent and researchers regarding planned project activities and the proponent's commitment to coordinate to the extent possible to not interfere or influence research surveys, the Agency is of the view that potential effects would be mitigated.

Damage to fishing gear could potentially occur as a result of interactions between project vessels and fishing vessels. The proponent would utilize common vessel travel routes where they exist and otherwise follow a direct route to exploration licences. Within the exploration licence, where drilling associated activity is occurring, most activity would be focused in or near the MODU safety zone. Effective communication between the proponent and fishers would be important to help reduce the potential for interactions and a compensation program would be available in case of an incident.

Following completion of exploration drilling, wells may be suspended or temporarily abandoned. In most cases, the well would be abandoned and the wellhead may be removed. However, if a well is suspended (for a period limited by the C-NLOPB) or if all or a portion of the wellhead remains after abandonment, there is the potential for interaction between wellhead infrastructure and fishing gear, in particular mobile gear such as trawl gear, which could result in damaged or lost gear. As part of a proponent's Application for Approval to Drill a Well, required by the C-NLOPB for each well, the proponent would be required to include information on planned well termination (i.e., temporary suspension or abandonment). As part of the approval process, the C-NLOPB would consider the appropriateness of the planned approach to well termination. The C-NLOPB would consider the potential for the wellhead to interfere with fisheries and would require the proponent to engage fishers on their abandonment strategy in case of potential interference. The C-NLOPB would consider geographic location and water depth and would consult DFO if there is uncertainty regarding the potential for interference. If it was determined that interference with fisheries was unlikely to occur and the C-NLOPB was of the opinion that suspension or abandonment with a portion of the wellhead above the mudline was a reasonable approach, fishers would be notified of the wellhead abandonment strategy and location of the abandoned wellhead.

The C-NLOPB has advised the Agency that it is not aware of interference between suspended or abandoned wellhead infrastructure and fishing gear in the past. In the unlikely event that damage or loss of fishing gear was caused by contact with wellhead infrastructure, the proponent would be required to provide compensation to the injured party consistent with its obligations in civil law. C-NLOPB approval of a well termination in which all or a portion of the wellhead is left in place above the seabed does not extinguish the proponent's liability for any damage to fishing gear caused by contact between the wellhead and such gear during fishing activities.

The Agency notes that the proponent has committed to developing a Fishing Gear Damage or Loss Compensation Program, based on best practices, precedents and industry guidelines, as well as in accordance with applicable C-NLOPB requirements to address any unplanned interactions between the Project and commercial fishing equipment, including from suspended or abandoned wellheads. In all cases where spills, debris, dropped objects or other project related activities, including authorized activities, cause damage to fishers, the C-NLOPB would expect the proponent to consider claims in a manner that meets the requirements of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and the spirit of the Compensation Guidelines Respecting Damages Related to Offshore Petroleum Activity and to act in good faith to resolve claims from fishers. If the proponent and a fisher were unable to resolve such a claim, the fisher could seek relief through a compensation claim to the C-NLOPB [if applicable] or through the court. Claims for compensation may be made by domestic fishers as well as international fishers with legal authorization to be undertaking fishing activities in the area. Each claim, whether by a domestic or international fisher, would be evaluated by the C-NLOPB on a case-by-case basis to determine eligibility and the value of compensation.

Supply and servicing operations have the potential to interact (e.g., direct interference and damage to some gear types) with commercial fisheries that may operate within the transit route. The proponent indicated that the risk of interaction in the transit route is greater than the potential for interaction with fishing gear in areas where drilling-associated activities are occurring. Fishing gear, in particular crab pots, set in the transit route area are weighted to the bottom with an attached buoy or buoys at the surface creating potential for entanglement. The Agency notes however, the supply and servicing vessels would not be towing sub-surface equipment therefore pose no additional risk of conflict.

The Agency is of the view that the potential effects on commercial fishing, including effects on communal commercial fisheries, could be mitigated through early identification and proper communication of restricted zones (e.g., safety exclusion zones) and information about the location of suspended or abandoned wellheads. The proponent would be required to develop a Fisheries Communication Plan. The plan would be developed in consultation with both Indigenous and commercial fishers and would include but not be limited to communication objectives, participants and key contacts, and would provide guidance and instruction related to ensuring interested parties are kept up to date with respect to operational activities and accidental events and have the ability to provide feedback.

Key Mitigation Measures to Avoid Significant Effects

The Agency considered the mitigation measures proposed by the proponent, expert advice from federal authorities and comments from Indigenous groups and the public and identified the following key measures to mitigate the Project effects on commercial fisheries:

  • in consultation with Indigenous groups and commercial fishers, develop and implement a Fisheries Communication Plan to address communications prior to and during drilling, testing and abandonment of each well. The plan should include:
  • regular updates to provide specific information on plans for project activities and an opportunity for feedback and further exchange of information on specific aspects of interest;
  • information on safety exclusions zones and suspended and abandoned wellheads;
  • procedures to notify fishers a minimum of two weeks prior to the start of drilling each well;
  • information on vessels travelling between Newfoundland and Labrador and exploration licences (e.g., number per week, general route); and
  • procedures for determining the need for a Fisheries Liaison Officer and/or fisheries guide vessels during MODU movement and the use of a Fisheries Liaison Officer during geophysical programs;
  • prepare a well abandonment plan, including a wellhead abandonment strategy and submit it to the C-NLOPB for acceptance at least 30 days prior to abandonment of each well. If it is proposed that a wellhead be abandoned on the seafloor in a manner that could interfere with commercial fishing, develop the strategy in consultation with potentially affected Indigenous groups and commercial fishers;
  • ensure that details of safety exclusion zones and the locations of abandoned wellheads, if left on the seafloor, are published in Notices to Mariners, provided in Notices to Shipping and communicated to fishers;
  • provide information on the locations of any abandoned wellheads, left on the seafloor, to the Canadian Hydrographic Services for future nautical charts and planning;
  • ensure ongoing communication with the NAFO Secretariat, using established information exchange mechanisms that are in place with DFO, regarding planned project activities, including timely communication of drilling locations, safety exclusion zones and suspended or abandoned wellheads; and
  • implement all mitigation listed in Section 6.1 Fish and Fish Habitat related to providing the results of the seabed investigation survey, wellhead abandonment procedures, selection of chemicals, disposal of spent synthetic-based muds and the discharge of waste.

The Agency also notes that the proponent has committed to developing a Fishing Gear Damage or Loss Compensation Program, based on best practices, precedents and industry guidelines, as well as in accordance with applicable C-NLOPB requirements to address any unplanned interactions between the Project and commercial fishing equipment.

Follow-up

The Agency identified the following measure as part of a follow-up program to ensure the effectiveness of mitigation measures and to verify the accuracy of predictions of effects on commercial fisheries:

  • report annually to the C-NLOPB on whether there have been incidents of lost or damaged fishing gear associated with the Project, including project-related vessels.

In addition, the envisioned Fisheries Communication Plan would provide a means of identifying potential issues should they arise.

Agency Conclusion

The Agency determined that the adverse residual environmental effects of the Project on commercial fishing, including communal commercial fishing, are predicted to be low in magnitude, localized and short-term.

Taking into account the implementation of the mitigation measures, the Agency concludes that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on commercial fisheries.

6.7. Current Use of Lands and Resources for Traditional Purposes and Health and Socioeconomic Conditions of Indigenous Peoples

6.7.1. Proponent's Assessment of Environmental Effects

Existing Environment

Fishing for food, social and ceremonial purposes is an important activity for all Indigenous communities who were included in the EIS. DFO issues fishing licences to communities to authorize fishing activities for food, social and ceremonial purposes, and all Indigenous communities included in the EIS hold these types of licences. Multiple species of fish are or have been harvested for food, social and ceremonial purposes, including Atlantic Salmon, American Eel, mackerel, flounder, gaspereau, lobster, clams, oysters and scallops. The preference for certain species varies across communities and based on regional differences. Many communities also harvest aquatic birds and marine mammals for traditional purposes within their traditional territory. Most Indigenous communities place an important value on these country foods and are of the view that they cannot necessarily be replaced or substituted by other sources or through compensation because of the cultural, social and nutritional qualities of these country foods and harvesting activities.

Through interactions with participating communities and a review of available resources (see Section4.1.2 for an overview of the proponent's engagement activities), the proponent concluded that no food, social or ceremonial fishing (including marine mammal and aquatic bird harvesting) is taking place in the project area or within the potential zones of influence of the Project under normal operations. Since there is unlikely to be direct geographical overlap between routine project activities and most Indigenous communities' activities, the proponent's assessment focused on marine migratory species of interest that may have potential to interact with the Project and have connections to important areas or activities associated with the traditional use of lands and resources by Indigenous communities.

In addition to food, social or ceremonial fishing, Indigenous communities also hold communal commercial fishing licences. In certain cases, these communal commercial licences do overlap with the project area. The potential effects of the Project on these licences is discussed in Section 6.6.

Predicted Effects

The proponent stated that the project area is located at such a distance from the communities that there is no known use for traditional purposes including food, social or ceremonial fishing taking place within the project area or local study area. Therefore, the proponent predicted that fishing for food, social or ceremonial purposes would not be disrupted as a result of the Project. More broadly, the proponent stated that there is essentially no potential for biophysical effects of the Project to translate into a decrease in the overall nature, intensity, distribution, quality or cultural value of any traditional activities by any Indigenous communities.

The proponent acknowledged that Atlantic Salmon are of particular importance to Indigenous communities in Atlantic Canada and due to their migratory nature, individuals of this species may migrate through the project area before moving to an area that is subject to traditional harvesting activities. The proponent predicted that there would be a very low likelihood of interactions between routine project activities and Atlantic Salmon (see Section 6.1 for additional detail on effects to fish and fish habitat) and that there would be no potential for any interactions to translate into a decrease in the overall nature, intensity, distribution, quality or cultural value of salmon fishing by Indigenous communities.

Given the importance of the species to Indigenous groups, the proponent has committed to contribute to research on the presence and distribution of Atlantic Salmon which includes potential new studies through the ESRF that has issued a new call for proposals on May 15, 2019 for Environmental and Social Studies related to Atlantic Salmon. The proponent has expressed an interest in this or other research being undertaken collaboratively with Indigenous organizations. The results should be made readily available to existing or future regional databases and proactively shared with government, Indigenous groups and the public.

In general, the proponent predicted that effects from routine operations on Indigenous communities and activities would likely be negligible or low due to:

  • the localized nature of operational activities;
  • the short duration of operational activities;
  • the low probability of species interaction with operational discharges and emissions; and
  • the limited potential for biological effects if individuals were exposed to discharges.

6.7.2. Views Expressed

MTI and KMKNO noted the lack of primary source data and Indigenous knowledge gathered and utilized by the proponent in its EIS. They recommended that other means of data collection be used, including primary sources of information, to support a more comprehensive understanding of Indigenous land and resource use, fishing activity and socioeconomic conditions and to better inform the resultant effects assessment. The proponent noted that it did invite Indigenous groups to submit such knowledge related to the Project and its potential effects, and has also committed to continue to accept and consider such knowledge or other inputs and perspectives as part of its ongoing engagement initiatives. However, given that the project area is over 400kilometres from land (and at least 635 kilometres from any Indigenous community) and that no Indigenous groups hold, claim or assert Aboriginal or Treaty rights or otherwise undertake traditional activities within or near the project area, the proponent is of the view that the use of secondary sources of information are sufficient and that it made reasonable efforts to integrate traditional knowledge into the assessment. Despite the proponent's response, KMKNO maintained that, without gathering primary sources of information from Indigenous groups, the proponent's assessment of effects on Indigenous groups, such as health impacts of a spill, is insufficient.

Potential effects to Atlantic Salmon populations was a key concern for all communities. Analysis of the potential effects to salmon is included in Section 6.1 of this report but the linkage of salmon to current use was commented on by many groups. WNNB and Woodstock First Nation stated that the proponent should have considered traditional use of Atlantic Salmon throughout the regional study area rather than only in the project area when evaluating effects of changes to the environment on current use of traditional resources. Further, WNNB and KMKNO commented that potential effects to salmon be carried into the assessment of current use of lands and resources to enable Indigenous communities to review a holistic assessment of current use. The Agency requested further consideration of species of interest to Indigenous communities through the lens of current use including salmon, swordfish and Bluefin Tuna. The proponent reviewed additional information in response to Indigenous concerns but maintained that the assessment and conclusions as presented in the EIS remained accurate.

MTI expressed disagreement with the proponent's assertion that traditional activities are located at a great distance from the project area and stated that this characterization minimizes the importance of the potential impacts of the Project on use by Indigenous communities. Furthermore, MTI noted that there are documented swordfish harvesting locations to the south of the local study area that could be near the Project.

MFN, Première Nation de Nutashkuan and MMS disagreed with the methodology for assessing effects to Indigenous communities put forward by the proponent. Innu de Ekuanitshit questioned the outcome of the effects analysis and are of the view that adverse effects would extend beyond the project area. They requested the proponent to explain how the effects assessment for marine fish and fish habitat directly assessed potential impacts on Indigenous peoples. The proponent stated that it assessed effects to Indigenous peoples through the pathway of potential effects to fish and other marine species. It did not predict any effects extending beyond the project area and predicted no detectable effects at a population level for species.

The majority of Indigenous groups who provided comments were dissatisfied with the proponent's lack of follow-up or monitoring measures for effects on species of cultural importance, and by extension Indigenous communities, and recommend that follow-up or monitoring measures be developed in consultation with all communities. Several groups including NunatuKavut Community Council and KMKNO specified that Indigenous Knowledge should be considered in the design and implementation of follow-up and monitoring plans. Further, NunatuKavut Community Council, MFN, KMKNO and MTI specified that monitoring should be an opportunity for building capacity in Indigenous communities. MTI stated that monitoring would build confidence in the proponent's assessment and indicated the need for adaptive management if required. The proponent committed to continued engagement with groups and to develop an Indigenous Communities Fisheries Communication plan which may include updates on the monitoring and follow-up programs. In April 2019, a group of proponents of offshore exploration drilling projects in the eastern Newfoundland and Labrador offshore area, including the proponent of this Project, shared a proposed joint Indigenous Communications Plan for comment by Indigenous communities. The Plan shows how the companies propose to communicate with Indigenous communities during exploration operations and in the case of an emergency.

A summary of issues raised by Indigenous groups is presented in Appendix C.

6.7.3. Agency Analysis and Conclusion

Analysis of the Effects

The most likely interaction between Indigenous communities and the Project's routine operations would be related to potential effects on communal commercial fishing activities that could occur in the project area. These potential effects are discussed in Section 6.6 (commercial fisheries).

No food, social and ceremonial fishing was reported in the project area but it occurs in other areas, including coastal regions within the regional study area. However, it is unlikely that Indigenous peoples fishing or harvesting for food, social or ceremonial purposes would come in contact with any project components or realize any adverse impacts in their traditional territories from routine project operations. The proponent would also be required to implement measures to mitigate effects to fish and fish habitat, marine mammals and migratory birds (refer to Sections 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3) such that there would not be a perceptible change to the current use of traditionally valued species (e.g., Atlantic Salmon) or a change in the health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples as a result of routine project operations.

The Agency acknowledges that the potential effects from a worst-case accident or malfunction (i.e., an unmitigated subsea blowout event) would be more severe. These are discussed in Section 7.1.

Key Mitigation Measures to Avoid Significant Effects

The Agency determined that the measures to mitigate effects on fish and fish habitat (Section6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), migratory birds (Section 6.3) and commercial fisheries (Section6.6) would also mitigate effects on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and the health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples.

Follow-up

The Agency has not identified any follow-up measures specific to current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples and notes that there are related measures proposed for fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), migratory birds (Section 6.3) and commercial fisheries (Section 6.6).

Agency Conclusion

The Agency determined that the adverse residual environmental effects of the Project on current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples throughout the regional study area would be low/negligible in magnitude.

Taking into account the implementation of the mitigation measures described for fish and fish habitat (Section6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), migratory birds (Section 6.3) and commercial fisheries (Section 6.6), the Agency concludes that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples.

7. Other Effects Considered

7.1. Effects of Accidents and Malfunctions

Paragraph 19(1)(a) of CEAA2012 requires that a federal EA take into account the environmental effects of malfunctions and accidents that may occur in connection with a Project.

7.1.1. Proponent's Assessment of Environmental Effects

The proponent identified a number of potential accident scenarios that could occur, including vessel collisions, dropped objects, loss of MODU stability or structural integrity and loss of well control. Although the causes and consequences of these scenarios can vary, the proponent's assessment mainly focused on the potential effects of an unplanned release of hydrocarbons or synthetic-based drilling muds and/or cuttings as a result of one of these events. The proponent analyzed historical spill data to predict the probability of hydrocarbon releases and conducted spill fate and behaviour modelling for marine diesel batch spills, synthetic-based mud spills and uncontrolled subsea hydrocarbon releases.footnote 19

Probability of Hydrocarbon Releases

The proponent calculated the probability and potential frequency of hydrocarbon releases based on a review of national and international records of historical offshore spills (Table6).

Table 6: Probability of Hydrocarbon Release
Hydrocarbon Release Scenario Spill Probability
(Spills per Well Drilled)
Spill Frequency
Subsea Release
Extremely Large (greater than 150000 barrels) 0.0000392 1 per 25510 wells
Very Large (greater than 10000 barrels) 0.0000784 1 per 12755 wells
Large (greater than 1000 barrels) 0.0000980 1 per 10204 wells

Methods for Spill Modelling and Effects Thresholds

Modelling of subsea hydrocarbon releases and batch spills of marine diesel was conducted to predict the fate and behaviour of released hydrocarbons and to inform the assessment of potential effects. In the event of a hydrocarbon spill, the trajectory, fate and resultant environmental effects would be determined by the specific location, timing and nature of the release, as well as the environmental conditions and species present at the time of the event.

The hypothetical releases selected for modelling were chosen based on the potential range of scenarios that could occur. The hypothetical release locations were selected to represent the project area using a number of criteria, including subsurface features, seabed features, water depth, drilling depth, environmental features, placement within the exploration licences and proximity to sensitive areas. For the subsea releases, spill durations were based on estimated maximum timelines for spill response measures to stop oil flow (i.e., installing a capping stack could take up to approximately 30 days; mobilizing a MODU, obtaining approvals and drilling a relief well could take approximately 120 days). The modelled scenarios assumed that no response measures would be undertaken to mitigate effects; in a real event, response measures would be implemented immediately.

To analyze the probability of potential effects, specific thresholds for surface oil thickness, shoreline oiling and in-water oil concentration were used (Table7).

Table 7: Thresholds for Effects from Hydrocarbon Contamination
Threshold Type Cutoff Threshold Rationale/Comments

Oil Floating on Water Surface

Surface oil average thickness above 0.04 micrometres Socioeconomic threshold: A conservative threshold for effects on socioeconomic resources (e.g., fishing may be prohibited when sheens are visible on the sea surface).
Surface oil average thickness above 10 micrometres Ecological threshold: Mortality of birds on water has been observed at and above this threshold. Sub-lethal effects on marine mammals and sea turtles are of concern.

Shoreline Oil

Shore oil average concentration above 1.0 grams per square metre Socioeconomic threshold: A conservative threshold for effects on socioeconomic resources (e.g., shoreline cleanup may be required and shoreline recreation may be affected).
Shore oil average concentration above 100 grams per square metre Ecological threshold: Shoreline life has been shown to be affected by this degree of oiling.
In-Water Concentration In-water concentration above 1.0micrograms per litre of dissolved polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or above 100 micrograms per litre of total hydrocarbon concentration Socioeconomic and ecological threshold: Effects on both ecological and socioeconomic (e.g., seafood) resources may occur at or above this threshold.

In general, the proponent's modelling results and analysis consider the lower socioeconomic thresholds of concern (see table 7 above for an overview of thresholds used in the analysis).

Fate and Behaviour of a Subsea Hydrocarbon Release

The proponent modelled four different hypothetical subsea hydrocarbon release scenarios representing different release durations (30 and 120 days), release rates and volumes (1329000 barrels to 22080000barrels) in both exploration licences. The predicted probability of occurrence of all the subsea hydrocarbon release scenarios modelled is one-in-25000 wells drilled or less. For all the modelled scenarios, stochastic modelling predicted that areas with the highest potential likelihood (over 90 percent) to exceed the socioeconomic thresholds for effects would be to the east and south of the release sites. For the 30-day release scenarios, 90 percent probability threshold exceedances for surface oil were predicted to extend from approximately 200 to 600 kilometres and exceedances for in water contamination were predicted to extend from approximately 400 to 1200 kilometres. For the 120-day release scenarios, these exceedances were predicted to extend for approximately 2000 kilometres for surface oil and approximately 500 to 1500 kilometres for in water contamination.

The 30-day release scenario in exploration licence 1144 predicted a very small probability (less than three percent) of shoreline oil contamination at Sable Island within 60 days. The 30-day release modelled in exploration licence 1150 was not predicted to make contact with shorelines. For the 120-day release scenarios modelled (predicted probability of occurrence of approximately one-in-25000 wells drilled or less), average probability of shoreline oil contamination was anywhere between one and 44 percent with minimum time estimates for first shoreline contact between 15 and 159 days. Shoreline contact could occur along the coast of Newfoundland, Labrador, the Azores or Sable Island. The greatest average probability of shoreline oil contamination was along the coast of the Azores, with a minimum time for first shoreline contact between 45 and 61 days.

For the scenarios described above, the proponent also conducted deterministic modelling for single releases under specific, worst-case environmental conditions. For all representative scenarios, the majority of the surface oil (94 to 99 percent) was predicted to either entrain, evaporate or degrade by the end of the simulation time, with less than one to six percent predicted to remain on the surface after 60 days for the 30-day release scenarios and seven to 12 percent after 160 days for the 120-day release scenarios. Even for the worst-case shoreline contact case modelled for the 30-day release scenarios, less than 0.01 percent of the released oil was predicted to reach the shores of Sable Island after more than 50 days. For the 120-day release in exploration licence 1144, shoreline oiling was predicted to occur on Newfoundland and the Azores. The length of shoreline where oil was predicted to exceed one gram per square metre totaled 767 kilometres; however, shoreline oil was predicted to comprise an extremely small portion of the total mass of released oil (less than 0.03 percent). For the 120-day release in exploration licence 1150, shoreline oiling was predicted only to the east of the release site, contacting 634 kilometres of shoreline along the Azores. In all scenarios, oil on the sediments was predicted to be extremely limited, with less than 0.02 percent of the release making its way to the bottom. In many of the scenarios, a small portion (up to two percent) of the released oil mass was predicted to travel outside the model domain.

Potential Effects of Subsea Hydrocarbon Releases on Valued Components

Modelling results were used to assess the potential environmental effects of subsea releases on valued components. For all valued components, the nature and severity of effects would depend on the type, size and location of a spill, the time of year, the timely implementation of mitigation and response measures, and the species present within the affected area.

(i) Fish and Fish Habitat

Accidental events could interact with fish and fish habitat by affecting habitat availability and quality, fish mortality, injury and health, and fish presence and abundance. The primary direct pathway of effect on fish would be through exposure to dissolved hydrocarbons in the water column. Acute toxicity effects from exposure may include reduced feeding or larval deformities; however, these effects are generally short-term as many of the most toxic components would volatilize from the oil on the order of days. Chronic, long-term exposure would also have a range of potential effects including impacts on reproduction, growth, disease and survival.

Adult fish could potentially avoid a spill area but juvenile and early life stages of fish and benthic invertebrates in the immediate area of the spill would likely experience sub-lethal and lethal effects. Impacts to these less mobile individuals may result in species-specific effects (e.g., decreased reproductive success, deformities). These and other effects to fish and fish habitat could also amplify decreases in populations of fish already in decline and have implications on other trophic levels and on community composition. Plankton and other microscopic organisms would also not likely be able to avoid a spill; responses would be diverse and dependent on exposure level. Reductions in plankton may in turn reduce foraging opportunities for fish and could have implications for higher trophic levels.

Based on modelling, the potential effects of a large-scale subsea release on fish and their habitats could occur over areas of productive and diverse fish habitats and areas of high abundance and biomass of various fish and invertebrate species, such as the southern Grand Banks, the Flemish Cap and their slopes.

Oil from a subsea release was predicted to generally have limited interaction with sediments; however, interactions with benthic fish and fish habitat, including corals and sponges, would likely occur due to flocculation and sinking events associated with plankton and microbial pathways. Sessile adult and planktonic larvae of coral and sponges have no avoidance mechanisms. Following the Deepwater Horizon spill, indications of coral stress were observed and included partial tissue loss, partial coverage from brown flocculant sourced to the spill and mortality.

(ii) Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles

Marine mammals and sea turtles could experience mortality, injury or changes in health if exposed to hydrocarbons or through consumption of contaminated prey. A change in habitat quality could also result from oiling and associated response measures. Marine mammals and sea turtles in the spill area would likely experience a combination of exposures from contaminated air, water and sediment and via a combination of pathways (inhalation, ingestion, aspiration, adsorption). Oceanic animals that are closer to the site of a subsea release would be more likely to be exposed to a more constant flow and higher concentrations of fresher oil, as compared with nearshore species. Marine mammals and sea turtles demonstrate limited avoidance behaviour to most types of oil.

If oil were to contact shorelines or reach coastal habitats, marine mammals and sea turtles that use potentially affected shorelines and those that prey on seals could experience a change in mortality or injury or a change in health; however, it is probable that only a small portion of local populations would be affected.

(iii) Migratory Birds

The proponent predicted that oil spills and other accidental events could have serious, adverse consequences for marine and migratory birds, leading to potential changes in their presence, abundance, distribution and/or health. Exposure to oil could affect individuals through physical exposure or ingestion or through changes to important habitats and food sources. Marine birds are particularly vulnerable to oil spills as they may spend much of their time upon the surface of the ocean. If oil reaches coastal waters or shorelines, coastal birds could also be at risk.

Possible physical effects of oil exposure on birds include changes in thermoregulatory capability (hypothermia) and buoyancy (drowning) due to feather matting, as well as oil ingestion from excessive preening. Even small amounts of oil from sheens have been shown to affect the structure and function of seabird feathers. Once birds are exposed to oil, even with rescue and cleaning efforts, the chances of survival are quite low (mortality rates would depend on species behaviour but could be as high as 99percent). Seabirds generally have relatively long lives and low annual reproductive rates and therefore, mortality of adults can potentially have serious effects on populations.

If oil reaches the shoreline or coastal habitats, consequences for marine birds associated with these habitats may be serious. Without mitigation and response measures, it would take at least 15 days, and likely longer, for oil to reach a shoreline. Considering this timeline and the application of spill response and mitigation measures, oil would likely be weathered and patchy and would only impact a small proportion of local bird populations.

(iv) Special Areas

The proponent identified various special areas located within the regional study area that may be affected by a subsea release (Appendix E). In addition, there is the potential for a worst-case blowout scenario to reach special areas outside the regional study area, including Sable Island National Park Reserve and the Gully Marine Protected Area. These and other special areas are identified and protected due to various factors, including their ecological, historical, socioeconomic value and/or stakeholder and regulatory interest. Potential effects from a spill on a special area could include changes in environmental features and/or processes and changes in human use and/or the societal value of the area. These effects would be closely linked to effects on other valued components, particularly the biological valued components which have been discussed above.

(v) Commercial Fisheries

The proponent predicted that an accidental release of hydrocarbons could interact with commercial fisheries by: resulting in a temporary loss or reduction in access to commercial species; damaging fishing gear; affecting the abundance, distribution or health of commercial fish species; and/or affecting the actual or perceived quality of commercial fish products. Fisheries for various species could be affected and effects could potentially occur in various fishing regions, including NAFO Divisions 3KLMNO (see Section 6.6 for additional detail on the commercial fisheries in the region).

Direct effects from a subsurface release include the potential fouling of fishing gear and vessels in the immediate area of a spill as well as the temporary suspension of commercial fishing activity if fishing areas are closed. A closure could translate into economic effects as fishers may have to delay or cease fishing activity or move to more distant fishing grounds. Furthermore, any change in the abundance, distribution or quality of marine resources could have an effect on commercial fisheries. Tainting could also occur if fish were to be exposed to hydrocarbons and absorb oil-derived substances into their tissues, which could cause unpleasant odours and flavours. Even if fish are determined not to be tainted, spills could affect consumer perceptions of fish harvested in the surrounding area, potentially reducing market value of the product and subsequent economic returns.

(vi) Current Use of Lands and Resources for Traditional Purposes and Health and Socioeconomic Conditions of Indigenous Peoples

An accidental event could have indirect and direct effects on Indigenous communities and activities, including effects on fisheries resources and/or fishing activity and various sociocultural components and activities. A subsea release could discharge a large volume of oil, which could extend beyond the local study area. However, the proponent noted that there are no Indigenous communities or traditional activities located within or near the project area and oil spill modelling indicated limited potential for oil to reach traditional territories of Indigenous communities. Any potential for effects would be mainly indirect in nature and related to the possibility of marine-associated species that are used by Indigenous groups to be affected by a spill (e.g., Atlantic Salmon, American Eel). The proponent stated that there would be little or no potential for biophysical effects on marine-associated resources to translate into any detectable decrease in the overall nature, intensity, distribution, quality or cultural value of traditional activities by Indigenous communities or other aspects of socioeconomic conditions.

Additional Considerations

(i) Fate, Behaviour and Effects of Batch Diesel Spills and Synthetic-Based Mud Spills

As noted in Table 7 above, the most likely types of spills would be smaller, operational batch spills. These spills can occur during routine use, storage and movement of fuels, and often comprise instantaneous or short-duration discharges. A larger diesel spill could occur as a result of a vessel collision. Based on recent petroleum development experience off Newfoundland and Labrador, spills less than one barrel in size (less than 159 litres) occur somewhat regularly and may occur one to two times per well. Although these smaller spills may occur more often, the median volume is only fourlitres. A synthetic-based mud spill may also occur as a result of an accidental deck release, a subsurface release through a crack or orifice in a flex joint, riser or lines or a bottom release due to an emergency riser disconnect event.

The proponent also modelled the fate and behaviour of several hypothetical batch spill scenarios of diesel and synthetic-based mud. For the diesel spill scenarios modelled, less than 0.01 percent of the diesel was predicted to remain on the surface after the end of the 30 day simulation, with a significant portion evaporated (40 to 76percent), a portion in the water column (8 to 14 percent) and the rest degraded (16 to 45 percent). No shoreline oiling and negligible oil on the sediments was predicted.

The effects of a batch diesel spill would be similar to those of a subsurface hydrocarbon release but likely at a much smaller scale in terms of geographic extent and magnitude. Fish, marine mammals, sea turtles and migratory birds in the immediate vicinity of the spill would be exposed to elevated concentrations of hydrocarbons. Mobile species of fish may be able to avoid exposure but certain species, including early life history stages of fish and invertebrates, would not and would be more likely to experience mortality. There would likely be a localized change in species presence and habitat quality.

Spilled synthetic-based mud would behave much differently than spilled oil. Synthetic-based muds are heavy, dense fluids which sink rapidly through the water column resulting in limited effects on the water's surface from a spill. For the synthetic-based mud spills, the predicted area and thickness of the synthetic-based mud footprints varied based on location, surface versus subsurface release, season and density of the mud. Synthetic-based mud spills would likely reach the seafloor within a maximum of one kilometre from the drilling site but this distance would be much less in certain circumstances (e.g., a subsurface release of synthetic-based mud from the blowout preventer would likely reach the seafloor within a maximum distance of 60 metres). The maximum impacted area also varied from 1800 square metres to 9900 square metres. Maximum layer thickness on the sea floor also varied between approximately seven centimetres to 28 centimetres. In general, spills that settled farther from the spill site and over a larger area had smaller deposit thicknesses.

Although the effects of a synthetic-based mud spill on marine mammals, sea turtles and migratory birds would be adverse, they would likely be localized and negligible to low in magnitude. A synthetic-based mud spill could have greater effects on fish, particularly benthic species, and fish habitat and result in chemical toxicity, bioaccumulation (e.g., uptake of contaminants by fish and the presence or perception of taint) and seabed disturbance (e.g., habitat smothering). Acute toxicity of synthetic-based muds is low but health effects are associated with chronic exposure to synthetic-based muds and cuttings. Benthic species could also be affected by smothering and/or the creation of an anoxic environment. Any potential effects would likely be temporary as synthetic-based muds biodegrade within a few years.

(ii) Effects of Dispersants

Dispersants may be used to respond to spills and although they can accelerate the degradation of spilled oil, they have the potential to increase hydrocarbon exposure throughout the water column (i.e., to plankton and pelagic fish) and eventually the benthic environment (i.e., to demersal fish and benthic invertebrates). Certain concentrations and ratios of dispersants have been shown to reduce the effectiveness of some degradation pathways, which may result in increases in "marine snow" and potential effects on the benthic environment. Chemically dispersed oil may have more pronounced effects on the early life stages of fish and invertebrates than on adults and may be more toxic to corals than untreated oil solutions.

Dispersed oil has similar effects on birds to those of untreated oil (e.g., reduction in insulation capacity and waterproofing of feathers). However, with the application of dispersants, potential exposure to floating oil on the sea surface would be reduced and overall, dispersants mitigate the potential adverse effects of oil on marine and migratory birds compared to untreated oil.

Prevention, Preparedness and Response Measures

The proponent described a variety of measures to reduce the likelihood of accidents and malfunctions, including those related to: engineering and design standards; standard operating procedures; maintenance, inspection and monitoring; as well as measures to ensure the proponent would be prepared for a potential accident or malfunction (Appendix B).

Well Capping and Containment

The proponent would have primary barriers to maintain well control and prevent kicks (e.g., continuous monitoring, managing and controlling drilling and formation fluid density, pressure and circulation) and secondary barriers (e.g., blowout preventer system) to regain well control. In the event that these measures fail and an uncontrolled subsea hydrocarbon release occurs, the proponent would immediately commence mobilizing contingency plans, including well capping/containment and relief well operations. A capping stack would be used to temporarily "cap" well flow while work is being undertaken to permanently kill the well (e.g., through drilling of a relief well). The capping stack would have a minimum lifespan of six months to two years, which would provide sufficient time to permanently kill the well.

If required, a capping stack would be sourced from Montrose, United Kingdom and would be transported directly to the well site by a specialized vessel. The proponent would also have access to a contingency capping stack located in Singapore. Air freight would be the shipping mode of choice for the contingency capping stack.

The proponent estimated that mobilization and deployment of the capping stack would range from 15 to 30days. However, it noted that there are a range of variables that would influence the complexity and timeline of a well capping/containment operation and a number of simultaneous key activities would be conducted in preparation for deployment of the capping stack (Figure 4). Other variables that would influence the complexity of a well containment operation, and potentially the time required to deploy the capping stack, would include the rate of flow of hydrocarbons, water depth, weather conditions, subsea/sea surface currents, viscosity of hydrocarbons, vessel availability and the state of equipment.

Figure 4: Key Events and Timeline for Capping a Well

Key Events and Timeline for Capping a Well

Source: CNOOC Petroleum North America ULC

A relief well may also be required to permanently eliminate well flow. The proponent would develop a relief well contingency plan as part of the Well Control Emergency Response Plan. Initiation of relief well drilling would begin at the time of the release and in parallel with the deployment of the capping stack. In the event of a subsea release, the onsite MODU would likely incur damage and consequently, another unit would likely need to be mobilized to drill the relief well. Considering the time for unit mobilization as well as additional activities that would be required (e.g., additional surveying, ranging, well capping), the proponent estimated it could take up to 120 days to drill the relief well.

Spill Response

In addition to the Well Control Emergency Response Plan, the proponent would prepare an Oil Spill Response Plan which would outline potential types and levels of response that would be conducted once a spill is detected. The proponent would engage Indigenous groups and potentially other interested stakeholders in the development of the plan. The proponent has contractual arrangements in place that would allow it to call upon various response contractors and support agencies to provide additional resources, depending on the size and scale of the incident. It would draw on external resources as necessary, which could include private response organizations (e.g., Wild Well Control, Eastern Canada Response Corporation, Oil Spill Response Limited) and mutual aid agreements with other operators. In addition, government agencies, such as the C-NLOPB, the Canadian Coast Guard, ECCC (Environmental Emergencies), DFO, Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, Transport Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador may provide regulatory oversight, advice or support in the event of a spill. The C-NLOPB would have an oversight role on all response activities and would manage the relationships and interactions with other government agencies, including other jurisdictions and members of the international community, as required.

The proponent would ensure response capability both within and outside Canada's exclusive economic zone and stated that spill response would achieve the same outcomes whether responding within or outside this zone.

Response measures and activities that would be outlined in the Oil Spill Response Plan and which could be implemented in the event of a spill include surveillance and monitoring, mechanical containment and recovery, chemical dispersion, in-situ burning, natural degradation, shoreline protection and clean-up measures, oiled wildlife response, long-term remediation and compensation measures.

The proponent would undertake a spill impact mitigation assessment (also known as a net environmental benefit analysis), which would evaluate the benefits and risks of different response measures. This exercise would involve considering the environmental effects of each response tactic against a base case of no tactical response (i.e., natural attenuation/degradation). Considering whether and how to use chemical dispersants would be a key component of the spill impact mitigation assessment and use of dispersants would require approval from the C-NLOPB.

The proponent must have the financial resources to meet a minimum liability obligation of $1 billion so they have the ability to respond to a serious incident and pay for actual losses or damages as a result of the incident. In addition, the proponent must provide a minimum of $100 million in "financial responsibility" to the C-NLOPB for any costs incurred.

The proponent would implement a follow-up monitoring plan to monitor the effects of a spill and the effectiveness of the response measures. Although the plan would largely depend on the specifics of the actual spill and cannot be described in detail at this time, monitoring could be conducted on fish and fish habitat (e.g., toxicity tests, dispersant effectiveness, oxygen levels), migratory birds (e.g., carcass surveys), marine mammals and sea turtles (e.g., mortality estimations), commercial fisheries (e.g., testing seafood, monitoring fisheries closure areas) and the atmospheric environment (e.g., air quality monitoring).

7.1.2. Views Expressed

Federal Authorities

DFO, ECCC, the C-NLOPB and NRCan reviewed and requested updates to the proponent's spill modelling inputs and results. Following the review, the proponent conducted additional spill modelling work, including conducting fate and behaviour modelling to reflect the worst-case discharge scenario (i.e., the time it would take to drill a relief well), ensuring that models run until defined thresholds are reached and reconsidering the spatial boundaries selected. The proponent repeated its oil spill modelling, increased the release duration from 30 days to 120 days, extended the model duration from 60 days to 160 days and expanded the study area boundaries (i.e., model domain). The proponent also provided additional information regarding the approach and assumptions used to determine the fate and persistence of oil in the environment, the associated model inputs and potential environmental effects.

In particular, NRCan noted that the spill model used is limited in its ability to predict the degradation and sinking of crude oil heavy ends and corresponding smothering effects on benthic biota. The proponent acknowledged that this is an active area of research. It stated that the heavy compounds in question degrade slowly and are difficult to measure but that the modelling was conservative in its assumptions and likely overestimated effects. NRCan advised that the model does not consider the contents of the persistent portions of the crude oil and that biodegradation rates are therefore over-estimated; however, NRCan agrees that this is an ongoing area of research and has indicated that it will conduct simulations, publish data and continue discussions with industry to further advance existing models. Despite the potential shortcoming identified by NRCan, DFO and the C-NLOPB are of the view that the model results provide sufficient information to inform the effects predictions and to recommend mitigation and follow-up measures.

NRCan raised concern regarding the potential effects of this persistent portion of crude oil from a spill and required additional analysis from the proponent and possible follow-up measures that would be implemented. The proponent stated that the effects of persistent crude oil on valued components would be comparable to the effects of direct exposure to oil that were considered in the effects analysis. It also provided details on the follow-up monitoring strategies that could be considered for a spill, including measures to monitor effects on the water column, fish and the seafloor.

DFO requested additional information on the potential effects of a spill on special areas, including Sable Island, and on marine mammal species at risk and their critical habitat. The proponent noted that there is a small chance (approximately three percent of simulations) of shoreline oiling above one gram per square metre on Sable Island during winter months. The proponent also noted that there is a small chance oil from a spill would reach the Scotian Shelf and notably the Gully Marine Protected Area, Haldimand Canyon and Shortland Canyon, which provide critical habitat for the endangered Scotian Shelf Population Northern Bottlenose Whale. If oil were to reach these areas, it would be highly weathered and patchy due to the time it would take to reach the area. Although unlikely, effects would be adverse and could be high in magnitude, depending on factors such as volume of the spill and environmental conditions.

The C-NLOPB advised that the usual procedure for installing a capping stack may not be possible in shallow water; since the project area covers water depths less than 500 metres, alternative emergency response options need to be explored. Although the proponent does not anticipate drilling in depths shallower than 700 metres, it stated that water depth is indeed a variable that would directly influence the complexity of a well capping/containment operation and that shallower water wells can pose unique challenges to the installation of a capping stack. It is unlikely that a vessel would be able to deploy a capping stack from directly above the wellhead in shallow water. In such cases an offset deployment, where the vessel is not directly above the wellhead, would be required and would require additional time and resources. This could be achieved using either a large crane or using specialized equipment.

ECCC and the Agency required additional information regarding the timing of spill response and mobilization of a capping stack, including the proponent's ability to reduce response times and establish a capping stack facility in eastern Canada. The proponent explained that any well control emergency response plan would involve simultaneous initiatives and activities, with the assembly, testing and transportation of the capping stack being one series of activities. The proponent stated that it is unlikely that having a capping stack system in eastern Canada would reduce the overall time to install it because without the necessary facilities, equipment and expertise, the ability to modify the equipment for the specific incident would be limited. In addition, having a facility in eastern Canada with the ability to modify the equipment may not reduce the timeline to cap a well, as other activities would still be in progress prior to the installation of the capping stack, including site assessment/preparation and debris removal (see Figure 4 above). The proponent also considered transporting the capping stack by air but noted that this would not necessarily translate into reduced capping times for a variety of reasons, including the need to break-down and reassemble equipment and increased logistical complexity. The proponent concluded that transportation of the primary capping stack from Montrose, United Kingdom by vessel would be the preferred option; however, transportation of the contingency capping stack from Singapore would be more efficient by air.

Additional views expressed by federal authorities overlapped with views expressed by Indigenous groups. Some of these key views and comments are discussed below.

Indigenous Peoples

MMS asked about the potential for oil from a spill to reach the Gulf of St. Lawrence and/or the Gaspé Peninsula coast. The proponent stated that, based on wind and current data within the region, it is unlikely that oil from a subsea release or a vessel collision would enter the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The modelling conducted supported this conclusion.

Multiple Indigenous groups raised concerns about the potential effects of dispersants. In particular, KMKNO requested additional information on the potential differences between and effects of subsea versus surface dispersant injection. The proponent explained that, compared to surface application, subsea dispersant injection generally results in lower concentrations of dispersed oil, reduces the amount of oil coming to the surface, requires less dispersants and treats all escaping oil from a single release point. The spill impact mitigation assessment would provide information on response options.

Most Indigenous groups raised concerns about the potential effects of an accident or malfunction on Atlantic Salmon. The proponent provided additional information about these potential effects and stated that the majority of areas affected by a spill would experience total hydrocarbon concentrations below levels shown to have behavioural or toxic effects on salmon. In the event of a subsea release, waters with potential higher concentrations would likely be located toward the bottom of the water column and near the release site and salmon would likely avoid these areas. Despite the additional information provided by the proponent and their predictions that the residual environmental effects from an accident or malfunction on fish, including salmon, would not likely be significant, the Agency notes that Indigenous groups continue to express concern regarding potential effects on Atlantic Salmon. Groups have stressed their desire to see Atlantic Salmon populations recover so harvesting can resume and are concerned that offshore oil and gas exploration could contribute to pressures on populations, particularly in the event of an accident or malfunction. Several Indigenous groups, including WNNB, Woodstock First Nation, Elsipogtog First Nation and MFN, noted that data gaps regarding salmon behaviour and migration patterns still exist and it is important to acknowledge uncertainty and apply a precautionary approach in conducting the effects assessment. Groups have also stated that EAs of offshore exploration drilling projects take a compartmentalized approach and that an ecosystem-based approach should be taken with Indigenous knowledge more sufficiently factored into the assessments. In addition, several groups have noted that, in consideration of recent declines in Atlantic Salmon populations and the possible threat of extinction for some of these populations, any adverse effects on salmon could be of high magnitude, significant and would be an impact on Aboriginal rights.

MTI raised concerns about the potential effects of a spill on both Atlantic Bluefin Tuna and swordfish. Early life stages of these fish would be those most sensitive to exposure to oil; however, spawning and nursery areas for both these species are well beyond the predicted geographic extent of a spill, even in the worst-case unmitigated scenarios modelled. The proponent stated that juvenile or adult swordfish and Atlantic Bluefin Tuna are highly mobile and have wide distributions and would be able to avoid disturbances and search for prey outside areas affected by a spill.

Several Indigenous groups raised concerns related to potential contamination of harvested species in the event of a subsea release, including perceived contamination which could influence dietary changes if country foods were avoided. The proponent stated that the probability of a subsea release would be very low; released oil would likely move eastward; and response measures would likely reduce the magnitude, geographic extent and duration of a spill. The probability of contamination of resources harvested by Indigenous communities would be very low and the proponent maintained that an assessment of the potential effects on the health of Indigenous peoples was not required. However, the Agency is of the view that, in the event of a subsea release, actual and perceived environmental changes could potentially result in effects on socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples, including effects to traditional foods. Following the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico, people living in coastal communities demonstrated high levels of anxiety and depression for up to two years following the event, including in areas that experienced little direct oil contamination (American Psychological Association (APA) 2014; Morris et al., 2013). The cause of depression and anxiety was generally reported to be related to income loss (APA, 2014; Morris et al., 2013). The proponent stated that any perceived contamination would be addressed by a post-spill sampling and supporting information program to demonstrate that the various harvested food are not contaminated. The proponent would also engage Indigenous groups in the development of the Oil Spill Response Plan.

Ekuanitshit requested additional information on the potential effects of a spill, including a nearshore vessel collision, on coastal species and habitats. The proponent stated that it is extremely unlikely that oil from a subsea release would reach the shoreline but that adverse effects are possible and the importance of eastern Newfoundland to seabirds cannot be overstated. In the event of a nearshore hydrocarbon spill, the potential effects on this area, if it were to occur, could be severe (refer to effects of hydrocarbons on birds discussed above); however, the proponent reiterated that the magnitude of the effect would depend on the nature of the spill and that response measures would be in place to mitigate potential effects.

KMKNO raised concern and asked about the timing of spill response and mobilization of a capping stack, similar to ECCC and the Agency as discussed above. KMKNO further recommended that the proponent be required to provide up-to-date information to the C-NLOPB prior to drilling and at regular intervals during drilling related to capping stack status and the availability of vessels capable of deploying the capping stack.

KMKNO and MFN asked about the level of involvement of Indigenous groups in the development and implementation of the Oil Spill Response Plan. The proponent committed to sharing its final Oil Spill Response Plan with Indigenous groups for discussion and would consider their input. The proponent also committed to engage with Indigenous groups throughout the life of the Project and to explore opportunities to provide education in oil spill response, which could include training, workshops or exercises to more fully integrate these groups into the Project.

Additional views expressed by Indigenous groups overlapped with those views expressed by federal authorities. Some of these key views and comments were discussed above.

A summary of issues raised by Indigenous groups is presented in Appendix C.

Public

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union stated that oil spills are a major threat to the fishing industry. It acknowledged that oil companies have protocols and practices in place to prevent spills from occurring and that regulatory agencies are involved in monitoring these companies but maintained that the threat of an oil spill is imminent. It also noted that the spill impact mitigation assessment and the decision to employ measures such as dispersants require public discussion.

7.1.3. Agency Analysis and Conclusion

Analysis of the Effects

Offshore exploratory drilling happens in a dynamic environment and accidental events associated with these activities have occurred in the past; however, the vast majority of these events have been relatively minor. More serious events, such as a large-scale subsea release, are far less likely to occur but could have major consequences. The Agency understands that the chance of an extremely large spill (greater than 150000barrels) occurring during the drilling of any given well is predicted to be one-in-25000 while the chance of a large spill (greater than 1000 barrels) occurring is estimated as one-in-10000.

Effects from a subsea release may include sub-lethal or lethal effects on fish, marine birds, marine mammals and sea turtles, including species at risk and their critical habitats. Effects may also include impacts on commercial fisheries, special areas and Indigenous peoples. As such, the proponent would be required to take all reasonable measures to reduce the likelihood of an accidental event and ensure that they are prepared to respond effectively if an accidental event were to occur.

The Agency is aware that the C-NLOPB verifies that proponents have appropriate measures in place for spill prevention and preparedness. The proponent must comply with the requirements of regulations and be able to demonstrate that it meets the C-NLOPB's expectations for facility safety, pollution prevention and emergency response capability. The C-NLOPB has advised the Agency that its authorization of drilling activities would be contingent on its confidence that the proponent has a satisfactory approach to risk management and would take all reasonable measures to minimize the probability of malfunctions and accidents. The proponent would be required to sufficiently demonstrate their preparedness to appropriately respond in the event of an accident or malfunction (e.g., batch spills, subsea releases) including preparation of detailed Oil Spill Response Plans that meet the C-NLOPB's regulatory standards. Among other elements, the Oil Spill Response Plan would incorporate recommendations and guidance from ECCC, including measures related to wildlife surveillance, wildlife deterrent techniques, and the collection and storage of deceased wildlife.

The proponent would also be required to undertake a spill impact mitigation assessment to consider all realistic and achievable spill response options and identify those techniques (including the possible use of dispersants) that would provide for the best opportunities to minimize environmental consequences. Certain response measures, such as the use of dispersants and in-situ burning, would also require approval from the C-NLOPB prior to actual implementation.

In the event of a subsea release, primary and secondary barriers would be implemented to regain well control and prevent any accidental release of oil but if those barriers fail, the proponent would be required to begin the immediate mobilization of a capping stack and associated equipment to the site. Simultaneous to the mobilization of a capping stack, the proponent would be required to commence mobilization of a relief well drilling installation.

The proponent estimated that mobilization and installation of the capping stack could take anywhere from 15 to 30 days and that having a capping stack system in eastern Canada would be unlikely to reduce the overall time for installation. The C-NLOPB confirmed that capping and containment of a blown out well requires mobilization of equipment to prepare the subsea release site before use of a capping stack. This equipment would be transported by air to begin site preparation, which would include clearing of the site and cutting away of debris to ready the well for capping stack installation. The C-NLOPB has considered the various activities involved in source control and well capping and agrees with the proponent's assessment that the deployment of the capping stack is unlikely to be the critical path determining the overall timeline to put a capping stack in place. The C-NLOPB would require the Well Capping and Containment Plan contain a fulsome discussion of any potential options to reduce overall timelines (e.g., detailed accounting of timelines for mobilization and installation of capping stacks from various locations; review of opportunities to conduct preparatory work that may reduce timelines [e.g., permitting requirements, Canadian Customs and Border Services Agency requirements]). The proponent would be required to review environmental conditions at different times of the year to determine potential impacts on the time required to mobilize a capping stack, resulting in the need for additional mitigation.

The Well Capping and Containment Plan would include information on options and requirements for relief well drilling, including the locations of potential drilling installations that would be available to the proponent to drill a relief well. The proponent would be required to demonstrate that they have arrangements in place to access the necessary drilling installation in a manner that would minimize the time required to drill a relief well, taking into consideration location and logistics. The C-NLOPB would review the plans as part of its authorization process.

The Agency is aware that there have been a number of spills of synthetic-based mud offshore Newfoundland and Labrador over the past 20 years and 136000 litres of untreated synthetic-based muds were accidentally released offshore Nova Scotia in 2018. The proponent would be required to have appropriate measures in place to prevent batch spills, including spills of synthetic-based mud. Spill prevention and response would be described in the proponent's Environmental Protection Plans and Spill Response Plans, which would be reviewed as part of the C-NLOPB's authorization process.

Despite the measures the proponent would implement to prevent and respond to a spill, the potential effects on fish and fish habitat, marine mammals and sea turtles, and migratory birds could, in a worst-case scenario and under worst-case conditions, result in both individual and population level effects. These effects could be especially detrimental to populations of species that are particularly sensitive to such an event (e.g., seabirds) or are at risk (e.g., endangered population of North Atlantic Right Whale, Atlantic Salmon (Inner Bay of Fundy population)). The Agency also notes that a large subsea release, although unlikely, could affect special areas and critical habitats. Several of the special areas located within the regional study area (Appendix E) could be affected by a subsea release, including Fisheries Closure Areas, Ecologically or Biologically Sensitive Areas, and various coastal special areas. In addition, special areas outside the regional study area could also be affected, such as Sable Island National Park Reserve, the Gully Marine Protected Area, and Haldimand and Shortland Canyons, as well as international shorelines. Although unlikely, these effects could be of high magnitude.

Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers with commercial and communal commercial fishing licences could also be affected by accidental spills. A large batch spill or subsea release could result in the closure of fishing areas, the fouling of gear and vessels, a reduction in the marketability of commercial fish products, as well as effects on fish and fish habitat. In addition, Indigenous peoples could be affected if a spill affects species that migrate through the spill area to areas where they are harvested for food, social or ceremonial reasons (e.g., Atlantic Salmon). The Agency agrees with comments from Indigenous groups that, even if effects on these species are relatively minor, perceived contamination may discourage individuals from engaging in certain traditional practices or consuming certain species which may have interacted with a spill. For both Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers, any damages, including the loss of commercial or food, social and ceremonial fisheries, would require compensation in accordance with the Compensation Guidelines Respecting Damages Relating to Offshore Petroleum Activity. The proponent would also be required to develop and implement Fisheries Communication Plans, which would include procedures to communicate with fishers in the event of an accident or malfunction. Views provided by Indigenous groups would be considered in the development of the Spill Response Plan and groups would be provided the approved version.

The proponent concluded that, with the potential exception of effects on migratory birds or on special areas protected for migratory birds, residual environmental effects from an accidental event scenario would not likely be significant. The Agency generally agrees with the proponent's characterization of the potential residual effects of an accident or malfunction but after considering the views of Indigenous groups and applying a precautionary approach to its own conclusions, the Agency is of the view that, although very unlikely, the potential effects of a worst-case accident could be significant in relation to additional valued components. For fish and marine mammals, the potential for significant effects is linked primarily to the potential presence of species at risk (e.g., Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic Salmon, marine mammals and sea turtles species at risk). While uncertainty exists within these predictions (e.g., presence, abundance, migration patterns), even small impacts to a species at risk may be significant at a population level and affect their potential recovery. By extension, this could also result in an effect on the potential ability of Indigenous groups to harvest these species in the future. The Agency notes that the uncertainty may be addressed through further research proposed by the proponent.

Key Mitigation Measures to Avoid Significant Effects

The Agency considered the mitigation measures proposed by the proponent (Appendix B), expert federal advice from federal authorities and comments from Indigenous groups and the public and identified the following key measures to prevent accidents and malfunctions and to mitigate associated effects:

  • undertake all reasonable measures to prevent accidents and malfunctions that may cause adverse environmental effects and effectively implement emergency response procedures and contingencies developed for the Project;
  • submit a Well Capping and Containment Plan, which includes strategies and measures for well capping, containment of fluids lost from the well and the drilling of a relief well(s), as well as options to reduce overall response timelines;
  • develop and implement procedures to provide up-to-date information to the C-NLOPB prior to drilling and during drilling related to the availability of appropriate capping stacks and vessels, and appropriate drilling rigs capable of drilling a relief well at the project site;
  • prior to drilling, submit a Spill Response Plan which must include:
  • procedures to respond to an oil spill (e.g., oil spill containment, oil recovery) and spills of other types (e.g., synthetic-based mud or cuttings spill);
  • reporting thresholds and notification procedures;
  • measures for wildlife response, protection and rehabilitation (e.g., collection and cleaning of marine mammals, birds and sea turtles, including species at risk) and for shoreline protection and clean-up, developed in consultation with the C-NLOPB; and
  • specific role and responsibility descriptions for offshore operations and onshore responders.
  • provide Indigenous groups with an opportunity to review and provide feedback on a draft version of the Spill Response Plan. Provide the approved version to Indigenous groups and make it publicly available on the Internet prior to drilling;
  • conduct an exercise of the Spill Response Plan prior to the commencement of project activities and adjust the plan to address any deficiencies identified during the exercise. Provide results of the exercise to Indigenous groups following its review by the C-NLOPB;
  • review and update the Spill Response Plan as required during drilling and before commencing a new well;
  • prepare a plan for avoidance of collisions with vessels and other hazards which may reasonably be expected in the exploration licences and submit to the C-NLOPB for acceptance prior to drilling;
  • undertake a spill impact mitigation assessment to consider all realistic and achievable spill response options and identify those techniques (including the possible use of dispersants) that would provide for the best opportunities to minimize environmental consequences and provide it to the C-NLOPB for review prior to drilling. Relevant federal government departments would provide advice to the C-NLOPB through the ECCC Environmental Emergency Science Table. Publish the spill impact mitigation assessment on the Internet;
  • in the event of an uncontrolled subsea release from the well, begin the immediate mobilization of a capping stack and associated equipment to the site of the uncontrolled subsea release. Simultaneously, commence the mobilization of a relief well MODU;
  • if drilling is anticipated in water depths of 500 metres or less, undertake further analysis to confirm the capping stack technology selected can be deployed and operated safely at the proposed depth and submit this analysis to the C-NLOPB for approval;
  • compensate for any damages, including the loss of food, social and ceremonial fisheries in accordance with the Compensation Guidelines Respecting Damages Relating to Offshore Petroleum Activity;
  • include a procedure to notify Indigenous groups and commercial fishers in the event of an accident or malfunction in the Fisheries Communications Plan and to communicate the results of any associated monitoring and any potential health risks. Information that is provided to Indigenous groups and fishers needs to present a realistic estimation of potential health risks on consuming country foods, such that their consumption is not reduced unless there is a likely health risk from the consumption of these foods or specific quantities of these foods. If there is a potential health risk, consumption advisories should be considered; and
  • include procedures in the Fisheries Communications Plan to engage in two-way communication with Indigenous groups and commercial fishers in the event of a spill requiring a tier 2 or tier 3 response.

Follow-Up

The Agency identified the following measures as part of a follow-up program to ensure the effectiveness of mitigation measures and to verify accuracy of predicted effects in the event of a spill:

  • as required by and in consultation with the C-NLOPB, monitor the environmental effects of a spill on components of the marine environment until specific endpoints identified in consultation with expert government departments are achieved. As applicable, monitoring shall include:
  • sensory testing of seafood for taint and chemical analysis for oil concentrations;
  • measuring levels of contamination in recreational, commercial and traditionally harvested fish species with results integrated into a human health risk assessment to determine the fishing area closure status;
  • monitoring marine mammals, sea turtles and birds for signs of contamination or oiling and reporting results to the C-NLOPB, DFO and ECCC; and
  • monitoring benthic organisms and habitats in the event of a synthetic-based mud spill or other event that could result in smothering or localized effects to the benthic environment.
  • develop a procedure to communicate monitoring results to Indigenous and commercial fishers, as well as Indigenous groups.

Agency Conclusion

In taking a precautionary approach, the Agency concludes that, even with the implementation of mitigation measures, the potential effects of a worst-case accident or malfunction from the Project (i.e., unmitigated subsea release) on migratory birds and special areas could be significant. Similarly, considering the potential presence of species at risk, the Agency concludes that the potential effects of a worst-case accident or malfunction on fish and fish habitat and marine mammals and sea turtles could also be significant. By extension and particularly considering potential effects on populations of Atlantic Salmon and their recovery, as well as the context provided by Indigenous groups, the Agency concludes that the potential effects on the current (or future, as it pertains to at-risk Atlantic Salmon populations) use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and the health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples could be significant. With the implementation of mitigation measures, including the requirement to compensate for any damages to commercial fishing caused by an accident or malfunction, the Agency concludes that the potential effects of a worst-case accident or malfunction from the Project on commercial fisheries would not be significant.

However, the Agency recognizes that the probability of occurrence for a major event is very low and thus, these effects are unlikely to occur. Taking into account the implementation of key mitigation measures, the Agency concludes that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects as a result of accidents and malfunctions.

7.2. Effects of the Environment on the Project

Severe environmental conditions or events can increase the probability of an accident or malfunction that could in turn affect the environment. For this reason, the effects of the environment on a project are considered.

7.2.1. Proponent's Assessment of Environmental Effects

The Project could be affected by environmental phenomena such as weather conditions, oceanographic conditions, sea ice, icebergs, MODU and vessel icing, and geological stability and seismicity. The MODU selected would function within the environmental conditions likely or known to be encountered.

Weather and Oceanographic Conditions

Poor visibility resulting from fog, rain or snow conditions could increase the potential for accidental events. From May through August, visibility is poor (0.5 to 2 kilometres) or very poor (less than 0.5kilometres) from 33 to 52 percent of the time. Visibility and ceiling restrictions may be a factor for shipping or for helicopter support activities. Severe sea states can occur year-round with maximum significant wave heights exceeding 12 metres from September through March and reaching 15 metres in February. Extreme wind and wave conditions could result in MODU failure or capsizing of a vessel. Currents also have the potential to increase stress on a MODU, including the riser, which could result in malfunctions and accidental events.

Sea Ice, Icebergs and Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit and Vessel Icing

As outlined in Section 5, sea ice and icebergs occur in the project area, although, with a well-designed and implemented ice management plan, there would be minimal risk for interaction with the MODU or with infrastructure on or near the seabed. Ice is a navigational hazard and may increase the risk of an accidental event. MODU and vessel icing is also a potential risk during the winter and could result in a higher centre of gravity, slower vessel speed and maneuvering difficulty, as well as problems with equipment. The icing potential in the project area is greatest from January through March with a frequency of occurrence between approximately 20 and 30 percent; marine icing conditions along the vessel route would be similar to those experienced farther offshore, with some increased potential for heavier icing closer to shore. If icing is not properly managed, damage could occur and there could be an increased likelihood of an accidental event.

Geological Stability and Seismicity

A tectonic event could cause an earthquake of a significant size that results in seafloor instability. Subsequently, landslides could damage subsea infrastructure, disrupt project activities and increase the risk of potential accidental events. The Flemish Pass area has been identified as having a one-in-500 landslide risk occurring over any 20-year period. The MODU would be designed to accommodate and withstand seismic and related environmental loads.

The proponent indicated that a tsunami from a tectonic event is unlikely to occur. If necessary, the MODU would have the capability to quickly disconnect the riser from a well reducing the risk of damage to the well, riser and MODU.

7.2.2. Views Expressed

Federal Authorities

The C-NLOPB, ECCC, NRCan and DFO advised the Agency that, as applicable to their respective mandates and areas of expertise, the proponent's analyses were adequate for the purpose of the EA.

Indigenous Peoples

MTI asked how the proponent intends to monitor iceberg movement and collision potential and how emergency evacuation and shut-down could reduce the potential of an oil spill. They requested that Indigenous groups be notified of iceberg collision potential and how iceberg activity may alter or restrict the drilling program. KMKNO commented that the proponent should develop and implement procedures and training specific to emergency riser disconnect. The procedures and training should include specific installation and forecast weather thresholds (i.e., precautionary operating limits), clear decision-making processes, and detailed and unambiguous roles and responsibilities. The proponent noted that it would monitor physical environmental conditions, including the presence and movement of icebergs, and establish practices and limits for operating in poor weather or under other conditions (e.g., presence of icebergs). It would also have an emergency disconnect protocol to disconnect the riser, shut-down the well and move the MODU to a safe location. The C-NLOPB confirmed that the proponent would be required to submit a safety plan for approval. This plan would address the possibility of pack sea ice or drifting icebergs at the drill site and the measures to protect the installation, including systems for ice detection, surveillance, data collection, reporting, forecasting and, if appropriate, ice avoidance or deflection. Through the C-NLOPB's incident disclosure policy, information on iceberg collisions would be posted on the C-NLOPB's website. More broadly, the proponent would also be required to implement a physical environment monitoring program and establish and enforce practices and limits for operating in all conditions that may be reasonably expected.

Public

The Agency did not receive comments from the general public regarding the effects of the environment on the Project.

7.2.3. Agency Analysis and Conclusion

Analysis of the Effects

Severe environmental conditions or events can increase the probability of an accident or malfunction that could in turn affect the environment. The Project could be affected by weather conditions, oceanographic conditions, sea ice, icebergs, MODU and vessel icing, and geological instability and seismicity. These environmental conditions can affect the overall stability and functioning of the MODU or support vessels. In extreme situations these conditions may result in a required evacuation, failure of the MODU or vessel capsizing or result in a spill or another unplanned event.

The proponent would obtain a Certificate of Fitness for the MODU as required by the Newfoundland Offshore Certificate of Fitness Regulations to ensure it is fit for purpose and can function as intended. Meteorological and oceanographic monitoring programs would also be implemented over the life of the Project to forecast and respond to severe environmental conditions. The Offshore Physical Environmental Guidelines describe the requirements for monitoring and reporting of environmental conditions. The development and implementation of an Ice Management Plan is required by the Newfoundland Drilling and Production Regulations as part of the Safety Plan submitted by the proponent with an application for authorization by the C-NLOPB. The Ice Management Plan would outline methods for monitoring iceberg and pack ice and the measures to protect installations, including systems for ice detection, surveillance, data collection, reporting, forecasting and potentially ice avoidance or deflection. The proponent would be required to establish and enforce practices and limits for operating in all severe environmental conditions and to ensure that the MODU has the ability to quickly disconnect the riser from the well.

Key Mitigation Measures to Avoid Significant Effects

The Agency considered measures proposed by the proponent (Appendix B), comments from an Indigenous group and advice from federal authorities and identified key measures to mitigate the effects of the environment on the Project. The proponent shall:

  • in consultation with the C-NLOPB and ECCC, implement a physical environment monitoring program in accordance with the Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Drilling and Production Regulations and meet or exceed the requirements of the Offshore Physical Environmental Guidelines;
  • in consultation with the C-NLOPB, establish and enforce practices and limits for operating in all conditions that may be reasonably expected, including poor weather, severe sea state, or sea ice or iceberg conditions;
  • in consultation with the C-NLOPB and as part of the required Safety Plan, develop an Ice Management Plan including procedures for detection, surveillance, data collection, reporting, forecasting and avoidance or deflection of icebergs; and
  • in consultation with the C-NLOPB , implement measures to ensure that the MODU has the ability to quickly disconnect the riser from the well in event of an emergency or severe weather conditions.

Follow-up

The Agency identified the following measure as part of a follow-up program:

  • in accordance with the Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Drilling and Production Regulations, report annually to the C-NLOPB on whether there has been a need to modify operations based on severe environmental conditions and on the efficacy of the practices and limits established for operating in poor weather, high sea state, or sea ice or iceberg conditions.

The Agency notes that incidents and near misses involving collisions (including iceberg collisions) that result in or could result in a spill or unauthorized discharge or impairment to critical equipment would be posted on the C-NLOPB's website as part of its incident disclosure policy.

Agency Conclusion

Based on commitments made by the proponent and with the implementation of the mitigation and follow-up measures listed above and required by the C-NLOPB, the Agency is satisfied that the effects of the environment on the Project have been adequately considered and are not likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects.

7.3. Cumulative Environmental Effects

7.3.1. Proponent's Assessment of Environmental Effects

The proponent's cumulative environmental effects assessment considered the overall effect on valued components as a result of the Project's predicted residual environmental effects and those of other relevant projects and activities. The proponent used the same spatial and temporal boundaries for the cumulative environmental effects assessment as for the project-specific effects assessment of each valued component (Section 2.1 and Figure 1).

Other Physical Activities Considered

Physical activities that were considered in the cumulative environmental effects assessment are listed in Table8.

Table 8: Projects and Activities Considered in the Cumulative Environmental Effects Assessment
Project / Activity Overview
Hibernia Oilfield

Located approximately 164 kilometres west of exploration licence 1144.

Production activities at this oilfield are planned to extend throughout the temporal duration of the Project.

Terra Nova Oilfield

Located approximately 160 kilometres southwest of exploration licence 1144.

Production activities at this oilfield are planned to extend throughout the temporal duration of the Project.

White Rose Oilfield and Extension Project

Located approximately 111 kilometres southwest of exploration licence 1144.

Production activities at this oilfield are planned to extend throughout the temporal duration of the Project.

Hebron Oilfield

Located approximately 156 kilometres southwest of exploration licence 1144.

Production activities at this oilfield are planned to extend throughout the temporal duration of the Project.

Bay du Nord Development Project (proposed)

Located 18 kilometres north of exploration licence 1144.

If the proposed project is carried out, activities at this oilfield could partially overlap temporally with the Project.

Offshore Petroleum Exploration - Drilling

As of June 28, 2019, a total of 246 development wells, 98 exploration wells and 56 delineation wells had been drilled in the Jeanne d'Arc and eastern Newfoundland and Labrador offshore area (C-NLOPB, 2019a.). The Jeanne d'Arc and eastern Newfoundland offshore area is also subject to ongoing and planned offshore exploration drilling programs which have the potential to temporally overlap with the proposed project including (C-NLOPB, 2019b):

  • Equinor Canada Ltd. Flemish Pass Exploration Drilling Project 2018-2028;
  • ExxonMobil Canada Limited Eastern Newfoundland Offshore Exploration Drilling Project 2018-2028;
  • Husky Energy Exploration Drilling Project 2018-2025;
  • BP Canada Energy Group ULC Newfoundland Orphan Basin Exploration Drilling Project 2017-2026;
  • ExxonMobil Canada Limited Southeastern Newfoundland Offshore Exploration Drilling Project 2020-2029;
  • Chevron Canada Limited West Flemish Pass Exploration Drilling Project 2021-2030;
  • BHP Canada Exploration Drilling Project 2019-2028;
  • Equinor Canada Limited Central Ridge Exploration Drilling Project 2020-2029; and
  • Suncor Energy Offshore Exploration Partnership Tilt Cove Exploration Drilling Project 2019-2028.
Offshore Petroleum Exploration – Geophysical and Other Exploration Activities

Offshore geophysical surveys may include two-dimensional, three-dimensional or four-dimensional geophysical data acquisition. While geophysical and other exploration activities are multi-year programs that can cover large offshore areas, the type and level of activity conducted each year varies.

There are approximately 14 offshore geophysical programs in the Jeanne d'Arc and eastern Newfoundland offshore area in various stages of approval which have the potential to temporally overlap with the Project (see http://www.cnlopb.ca/assessments), including:

  • Husky Energy Jeanne d'Arc Basin/Flemish Pass Regional Seismic Program, 2012-2020;
  • Suncor Energy's Eastern Newfoundland Offshore Area 2D/3D/4D Seismic Program, 2014-2024;
  • WesternGeco Canada Eastern Newfoundland Offshore Seismic Program, 2015 to 2024;
  • ExxonMobil Canada Eastern NL Geophysical Program 2015-2024;
  • CGG Services (Canada) Inc. Newfoundland Offshore 2D, 3D 4D Seismic Program 2016-2025;
  • Seitel's East Coast Offshore 2D 3D 4D Seismic Program 2016-2025;
  • Polarcus UK Ltd. Eastern Newfoundland Offshore 2D, 3D and 4D Seismic Program 2016-2022;
  • CNOOC Petroleum North America ULC Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Geophysical, Geochemical, Environmental and Geotechnical Program, 2018-2023;
  • Multiklient Invest AS Newfoundland Offshore Seismic Program, 2018-2023; and
  • Capelin 3D Seismic Survey of EL 1138 Offshore Newfoundland and Labrador (2018-2021).
Fishing Activity Commercial fisheries within and around the project area are extensive and diverse.
Other Marine Vessel Traffic

Vessel traffic includes tanker traffic and supply vessels associated with the existing offshore oil developments, as well as cargo ships, navy ships and fishing vessel traffic.

Occurs through the region throughout the year.

Hunting Activity

Wildlife (especially seabird) populations off Newfoundland and Labrador are subject to hunting.

Although little or no hunting is expected to occur in the project area, these activities do affect the bird and seal populations that occur in the regional study area.

Potential Cumulative Environmental Effects on Fish and Fish Habitat

Marine fish and their habitats have been and are being affected by a variety of anthropogenic and natural influences including ongoing fishing activity, offshore petroleum exploration and production, general vessel traffic and other human activities, as well as the effects of climate change. The Project may contribute to cumulative effects on fish, including species at risk, and fish habitat as a result of changes in habitat availability and quality; food availability and quality; fish mortality, injury and health; and fish presence and abundance.

There would likely be some overlap between the effects on fish and fish habitat of commercial fishing activities and those of the Project. However, the temporary and localized nature of the Project's effects and the implementation of safety exclusion zones would somewhat limit the potential for direct interactions between the effects of commercial fisheries and effects of project-related activities on fish and fish habitat.

There would also be potential for interaction between effects of the Project and effects of other offshore petroleum exploration and production activities (e.g., seismic surveys, geophysical surveys and drilling) and other marine vessel traffic. Potential cumulative effects from these interactions include effects from underwater sound and disturbance to benthic species and habitats for drill cuttings accumulations around well sites; however, the proponent predicted that these interactions would be minor due to the spatially and temporally limited nature of the effects of the Project.

Potential Cumulative Environmental Effects on Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles

Ongoing and future activities that may affect marine mammals and sea turtles (including species at risk) include fishing activity, vessel traffic and other offshore oil and gas exploration and production programs. In general, there would be limited potential for the Project to contribute to cumulative effects on marine mammals and sea turtles given the transient and temporary nature of effects of the Project and generally localized nature of the majority of effects of these other activities. However, the propagation of underwater sound through the marine environment would result in greater potential for overlapping effects. As discussed in Section 6.2, the proponent predicted the behavioural thresholds for marine mammals exposed to continuous underwater sound could be exceeded up to 56.8 kilometres from the MODU and slightly further in winter. Although the highly mobile nature of marine mammals increases the potential for individuals and groups to be affected by multiple perturbations, conversely, this trait allows them to avoid or pass through disturbed areas reducing the potential adverse effects.

In particular, underwater sound from the four existing offshore production fields could interact with project-related sound and result in cumulative environmental effects. However, these projects are located 111kilometres or more from the closest exploration licence, limiting the potential for spatial overlap of sound effects. Offshore petroleum exploration activities also present some potential for interaction, although the localized and short-term nature of these activities and their effects, along with the implementation of standard safety and mitigation measures (e.g., planned and required safety exclusion zones; adherence to best practices with respect to seismic surveys), would limit the potential for interaction.

Effects of fishing activities on marine mammals could also interact with effects of the Project, although fishing is a transient activity and the available data do not indicate that the project area is a key fishing area. Other marine traffic also has the potential for interactions; however, the proponent assessed that the effects are localized and transient.

Project vessel activity in combination with general vessel traffic and commercial fishing activity may result in effects on marine mammals and sea turtles through an increased risk of collisions with vessels. Project-related traffic would be short-term, transient and localized, which limits the opportunity for cumulative environmental effects.

Potential Cumulative Environmental Effects on Migratory Birds

In general, while populations of most marine-associated birds occurring off eastern Newfoundland are considered stable, four of the seven major colonies of Leach's Storm-petrels in Atlantic Canada (including all three major Newfoundland colonies) have declined in recent years. This has been attributed to several factors including predation, ingestion of marine contaminants such as mercury, collisions and strandings due to attraction to lighted structures, and contact with hydrocarbons. The majority of strandings reported by operators occur in September and October, corresponding with the departure of Leach's Storm-petrel fledglings from breeding colonies and with fall landbird migration.

Potential interactions with migratory birds (including species at risk) are predicted to be short-term at any one location given the limited spatial and temporal scope of the Project. The nature of the Project itself therefore reduces the potential for particular individuals and populations to be affected repeatedly through multiple interactions with the Project, as well as the potential for, and degree and duration of, any overlap between the effects of the Project and other activities.

Within the regional study area, cumulative effects of the Project in combination with other light sources in the offshore environment have the potential to alter foraging behaviour for the Leach's Storm-petrel and other nocturnal seabirds. The current production projects are located between 90 and 140 kilometres from the project area and environmental disturbances in the 16-kilometre zone of influence associated with lighting would not likely overlap with those of the current production projects with the possible exception of vessel transits. Zones of influence associated with lighting from other marine traffic and activities, including oil and gas exploration and fishing, may overlap with that of the Project causing some temporary short-term alteration of foraging activities as birds and their forage species may be attracted to these light sources.

Entanglement in fishing gear can cause mortality and injury to seabirds. In Newfoundland and Labrador, murres and shearwaters are the birds most commonly caught as bycatch in fishing gear. General vessel traffic to and through the project area may affect marine and migratory birds through lighting, discharges and displacement/disturbance but the highly transitory nature of these disturbances limits any effects at any location and time and thus, the potential for cumulative effects. Zones of influence associated with lighting from other marine traffic (including oil and gas exploration activity and fishing vessels) may overlap with that of the Project causing some temporary short-term alteration of foraging activities as birds and their forage species may be attracted to these light sources.

The proponent did not predict that the Project would result in any adverse effects on marine or migratory bird species at risk and therefore contribute to cumulative effects on these species.

Potential Cumulative Environmental Effects on Special Areas

Several special areas overlap with the Project's exploration licence areas and vessel traffic routes (Section 6.4). Special areas could be affected by planned or potential oil and gas exploration activities, including offshore seismic or geophysical surveys and drilling, fishing activities and other marine vessel traffic. Many of the offshore activities and associated disturbances that would occur as a result of the Project would be localized and short-term in nature and the implementation of the environmental protection measures and procedures proposed for each valued component would serve to further address any direct or indirect potential effects on the special areas.

Potential Cumulative Environmental Effects on Fisheries

The project area overlaps with the NAFO fisheries footprint, although it is not in the area identified with the highest intensity of fishing. Various project components, including the safety exclusion zone around the active MODU, would temporarily reduce access for fishing and other activities; any such disturbances would be localized, short-term and reversible. This would be added to the safety zones established around the four current production projects and the safety zones around current or approved exploration drilling. However, the proponent states that the safety zones from these fields individually and collectively occupy a relatively small footprint in comparison to available fishing areas and that the safety exclusion zones from exploration projects are short-term and localized.

Marine vessel traffic is also common, although inherently transient in nature with limited disturbances to other ocean uses, and is likewise required to remain at specified distances from other marine activities, including active offshore exploration drilling and seismic programs.

The often spatially extensive nature of geophysical surveys increases the potential for these surveys and the Project to result in cumulative environmental effects on fishing enterprises. As part of the planning and implementation of survey activities, proponents of geophysical surveys would typically communicate and coordinate with relevant marine users and other stakeholders, including exploration drilling project proponents to plan and coordinate activities so as to provide spatial and temporal separation.

Potential Cumulative Environmental Effects on the Current Use of Lands and Resources for Traditional Purposes and Health and Socioeconomic Conditions of Indigenous Peoples

There are no documented food, social or ceremonial licences nor any current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes within the project area. Few of the marine associated resources that are known to be used by Indigenous groups are likely to migrate through the project area and for those that may (e.g., Atlantic Salmon) there would be a very low likelihood of interactions that could translate into a negative effect on traditional activities. The proponent predicted that there is no potential for the availability or quality of resources that are currently used for traditional purposes by Indigenous groups to be reduced or negatively affected as a result of routine project activities, especially to a degree that would alter the nature, location, timing, intensity or value of these activities or the health or heritage of Indigenous peoples.

7.3.2. Views Expressed

Federal Authorities

The C-NLOPB noted that the discussion of cumulative effects was qualitative with respect to seismic, geophysical and other exploration activities.

DFO noted that the predicted extent of drill cuttings and associated environmental effects, as well as the mitigation measures for the protection of sensitive benthic habitat, were not discussed in terms of cumulative effects.

ECCC advised that a new light source in darker parts of the regional study area where there is currently no offshore production may have a greater direct effect on migratory birds compared to the incremental effect of a new light source in the more active southwestern portion of the regional study area given that creating a new light source in a previously dark area would expand the overall lit area in the offshore. The proponent acknowledged that the lighting associated with the Project may have a direct effect on marine and migratory birds. Even in the more active portion of the regional study area, where current sources of artificial lighting are more numerous, the addition of lighting associated with the Project would result in a cumulative increase in the potential for attraction and disorientation of marine and migratory birds. To address this, the proponent committed to developing a program for standardized searches to document the effect of lighting on stranded marine and migratory birds.

ECCC also raised concern regarding the proponent's basis for the cumulative effects analysis on migratory birds and that the presence of artificial lighting along a foraging flight path should be the basis of a cumulative analysis (rather than overlapping light sources). On this basis, the same individual or individuals from the same population could be affected by light from production facilities and/or exploration facilities located far away from one another and outside their individual zones of influence.

DFO and ECCC advised that the mitigation measures, monitoring and follow-up programs proposed by the proponent and recommended by the Agency would adequately address the potential cumulative environmental effects on migratory birds, fish and fish habitat, marine mammals, sea turtles, including applicable species at risk, as well as on commercial fishing and special areas.

Indigenous Peoples

Several Indigenous groups commented on the importance of a thorough cumulative effects assessment. Elsipogtog were of the view that the proponent's cumulative effects assessment was overly simplistic given the multitude of exploration drilling programs ongoing within and planned for the Flemish Pass area. Elsipogtog also raised the concern that changes to sediments or benthic organisms would be considered a loss of fish habitat and therefore subject to the Fisheries Act. They also noted that although the proponent has determined that project effects would only last for a short period of time, the proposed duration of the exploration drilling is 10years, which would cover more than two generations of Atlantic Salmon.

MFN expressed concern about cumulative environmental effects, including on declining Atlantic Salmon populations and the potential impact this would cause on their rights. The proponent noted that the general pattern of stock decline throughout the North Atlantic region over the past three decades has likely been a response at least in part to global climate change. MFB disagreed with the proponent's finding that the Project would not result in significant adverse cumulative environmental effects on salmon and raised concerns with routine project effects such as impaired water quality as well as effects from an accident or malfunction. The proponent stated that based on its review of the information, its initial assessment remained valid and its conclusions unchanged. MFN also raised concern about the cumulative effect of underwater sound from seismic testing, petroleum production facilities and project activities on marine mammals and fish. The proponent acknowledged that propagation of underwater sound has the potential for overlap and interactions between sources with individual marine mammals and sea turtles having the potential to be exposed to multiple sources of underwater sound. However, it noted that behavioral effects from underwater sound would be temporary in nature and spatially distributed, which would reduce the potential for cumulative effects.

MTI raised concerns regarding the cumulative effects of sound on North Atlantic Right Whales and requested hydrophones be installed at the drill site to support ongoing monitoring and recovery efforts. The proponent stated that it is not intending to verify the noise predictions based on a study of acoustic propagation in the offshore waters of eastern Newfoundland, which found that average sound pressure levels were below the behavioural disturbance threshold at 35 kilometres from the Hibernia platform. However, the proponent would be required to develop and implement marine mammal observation requirements, including the use of passive acoustic monitoring or equivalent technology and visual monitoring by marine mammal observers throughout vertical seismic surveys. MTI expressed concern that the proponent's conclusion that existing production facilities and other exploration activities are far enough away to not cause cumulative effects was not sufficiently substantiated with scientific analysis to provide confidence in the conclusion. MTI had concerns with cumulative effects of multiple drilling mud releases on species important to MTI, including Swordfish, Atlantic salmon and Bluefin tuna. The proponent responded that Atlantic salmon, Atlantic Bluefin tuna and Swordfish are highly mobile pelagic species that exhibit avoidance behaviors and that the mitigation proposed in the EIS would result in negligible effects to these species from drill muds and cuttings. MTI requested that cumulative effects be managed through an Indigenous environmental monitoring program for routine and accidental events or malfunctions.

NunatuKavut raised concerns regarding the cumulative effects of oil spills on migratory fish on which their coastal communities are reliant for food. The proponent stated that the potential for contaminated fish to be ingested by Indigenous peoples, either directly through harvest or indirectly through the food chain, is considered very low based on the extremely low probability of an uncontrolled well event combined with the low likelihood of a transient species intersecting the spilled materials and then travelling to onshore or near shore locations and being harvest and consumed.

KMKNO were concerned that the accumulation of drill cuttings from multiple wells might have a negative cumulative effect on benthic species and habitats and requested the proponent conduct a follow-up study to validate the dispersion modelling to confirm that there are no cumulative effects. KMKNO and MTI were also concerned regarding the potential cumulative effect on marine mammals and sea turtles from collisions with the addition of project supply vessels to the current commercial fishing vessels and vessels from other ocean users. The Agency considered the concerns with respect to cumulative effects from vessels resulting in collisions with marine mammals and sea turtles in developing the conditions with which the proponent must comply.

Nutashkuan was concerned that the cumulative effects analysis did not consider the numerous seismic surveys and previous exploration wells that have been drilled in the offshore of Newfoundland.

A summary of issues raised by Indigenous groups is presented in Appendix C.

Public

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union raised the concern that there could be cumulative effects if multiple wellheads are left in place which would require avoidance by fishers. They noted that due to the nature of how fishing gear is set it can be challenging to avoid a particular location, which leads to a larger area of avoidance. The proponent stated that very little domestic fishing occurs within the exploration licence areas. The proponent concluded that the amount of actual bottom fishing lost would be small and alternative grounds would be available nearby. The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union was also concerned that the cumulative effects assessment did not fully examine the effects of seismic programs, drilling, produced water and oil spills on fish and fish habitat for projects over the last 60 years of offshore exploration and development.

7.3.3. Agency Analysis and Conclusion

Analysis of the Effects

The Agency has considered the analysis of cumulative environmental effects provided by the proponent, advice from federal authorities and comments from Indigenous groups and is of the opinion that the residual environmental effects of the Project could interact cumulatively with the effects of other projects and activities.

Fish and fish habitat in the regional study area may be affected by the Project in combination with effects of other projects and activities. While most mobile fish species, including Atlantic Salmon, have higher potential to interact with multiple projects and activities, these species also generally have higher avoidance capabilities and access to alternative habitats. Furthermore, given the limited zone of influence and short-term nature of project-related disturbances on these species, potential cumulative effects of the Project would be limited.

The Agency agrees with the C-NLOPB that the proponent's cumulative effects assessment was generally qualitative in nature, including its analysis of potential accumulation of drill cuttings from multiple wells and notes KMKNO and DFO's related concerns. Through a review of available information and based on the proponent's modelling of drill cuttings deposition, the Agency conducted a more quantitative assessment of potential cumulative effects from accumulation of drill cuttings from multiple wells. Based on a review of the C-NLOPB's Schedule of Wells Summary, no historical wells were drilled within the two exploration licences for the Project, which lessens the potential for cumulative effects (C-NLOPB, 2019a). The proponent also predicted that drill cuttings would be deposited with a thickness greater than 1.5 millimetres (i.e., the no-effects threshold) across a maximum area of 0.18 square kilometres (700 metres by 260 metres) in exploration licence 1144 and 0.084 square kilometres (350 metres by 240 metres) in exploration licence 1150. If all ten potential exploration wells were drilled in one of the exploration licences, the maximum area covered with drill cuttings above the no-effects threshold would be 0.11 percent and 0.05 percent of the total areas of exploration licences 1144 (approximately 1630 square kilometres) and 1150 (approximately 1696 square kilometres), respectively.

The Agency also notes that ongoing environmental effects monitoring programs for petroleum production projects have demonstrated localized (i.e., less than 10 kilometres) geographic effects on fish habitat from drill cuttings and chemical contaminants. This suggests a limited potential for cumulative environmental effects between the Project and ongoing petroleum production projects. Furthermore, cumulative environmental effects on corals and sponges are predicted to be unlikely or minimal given the requirement for the proponent to relocate drilling activities or discharges, as required, if aggregations of coral and sponges or other environmentally-sensitive species are identified during pre-drill surveys. Cumulative environmental effects on special areas protected based on the presence of sensitive benthic features would similarly be unlikely or minimal.

Marine mammals and sea turtles in the eastern Newfoundland offshore area may be affected by the Project in combination with effects of other exploration and production activities as well as effects of vessels from shipping, fishing and other activities. The potential cumulative effects of sound on marine mammals are of particular concern. Based on the proponent's predicted zone of influence for sound and based on information available for other offshore exploration and production projects in the region, the Agency has identified at least one potential development project (the Bay du Nord Development Project) and at least three exploration drilling projects with sound effects that could spatially overlap with the Project's. Even if the Project's sound effects do not spatially overlap with those of another project or activity, marine mammals and sea turtles can generally travel across great distances and may experience disturbances from multiple anthropogenic sound sources across a relatively large region. The potential effects of sound from the Project could therefore act cumulatively with the effects of other projects and activities in a region much larger than simply the zone of influence of the Project's effects. In addition, although the mobile nature of marine mammals and sea turtles may allow them to avoid or pass through disturbed areas, avoidance of otherwise suitable habitat is in itself a negative effect and is of concern when considering potential cumulative effects from multiple projects.

Despite the potential for cumulative effects to marine mammals and sea turtles, the Agency also notes that activities producing potential behavior-altering sound in the marine environment, including those of the Project, are generally short-term, transient and temporary (e.g., VSP surveys, vessel traffic, drilling), which would limit the potential for the Project's effects to temporally overlap with the effects from other projects and activities, including those projects which have effects that may overlap spatially with those of the Project. The proponent would also be required to implement mitigation measures to reduce the effects of the Project on marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), including measures to reduce effects from sound (e.g., conduct VSP surveys in accordance with the Statement of Canadian Practice with Respect to the Mitigation of Seismic Sound in the Marine Environment) and from vessel transits (e.g., reduce vessel speed under certain scenarios), which would in turn reduce the Project's contribution to cumulative effects. In addition, given uncertainties about the effects of sound, the proponent would be required to verify sound predictions from drilling installations and provide the results to DFO and the C-NLOPB.

The Project would contribute to an increase in night lighting in the eastern Newfoundland offshore area. Based on the proponent's zone of influence for lighting, a MODU in exploration licence 1144 or 1150 is unlikely to have light effects which overlap with any of the existing production facilities as the maximum predicted zone of influence is 16 kilometres and the closest production facility is the White Rose Oilfield and Extension located approximately 111kilometres from the edge of exploration licence 1144. However, a MODU in either exploration licence 1144 or 1150 may have light effects which overlap with the proposed Bay du Nord Development Project which is located approximately 18 kilometres from the edge of exploration licence 1144. Regardless of whether light effects from the Project overlap spatially with other production or exploration activities, the Agency notes ECCC's advice that the basis for the cumulative effects analysis should be the presence of artificial lighting along flight paths and not spatially overlapping light sources. In this context, the Project has a greater potential to act cumulatively with the effects of other offshore projects and activities on migratory birds. However, the Agency notes that the presence of the MODU would be short-term (45 to 160 days per well) and the effects of light would be spatially limited relative to the overall regional study area. In addition, the proponent would be required to implement mitigation to reduce light attraction (e.g., reduced flaring duration, employing alternatives to flaring) and implement a protocol for daily monitoring for the presence of stranded birds. The results of monitoring would also be shared and would increase the level of information regarding potential effects and inform the need for additional mitigation, if applicable.

Commercial fishing could be affected by the Project and other petroleum activities given that additional safety exclusion zones would be created as part of the Project. However, the contribution of the Project to cumulative environmental effects is predicted to be minor given the small size and short-term duration of safety exclusion zones.

The potential for cumulative environmental effects in the eastern Newfoundland offshore area have been raised as a concern by Indigenous groups due to the number of potential projects that could occur. Given these potential activities, the Government of Canada is working with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and the C-NLOPB on a regional assessment for offshore exploratory drilling in the offshore area of eastern Newfoundland, which would aim to examine the effects of existing and anticipated offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling, including cumulative environmental effects. In advance of the regional assessment, operators are working together in conducting effects analyses (including for this Project), engaging Indigenous groups and identifying research needs (e.g., migration and effects to Atlantic Salmon).

In conducting the review of this Project, the Agency has identified a series of mitigation measures, as well as follow-up and monitoring, related to fish and fish habitat, marine mammals and sea turtles, and migratory birds. These measures would reduce project-specific effects, reducing their contribution to any cumulative effects, and verify the accuracy of the predictions made during the EA. This proposed monitoring and follow-up would also enhance the understanding and reduce any uncertainty with respect to the potential effects from offshore exploratory activities, potentially contributing to the wider analysis of cumulative effects as part of the regional assessment.

Key Mitigation Measures to Avoid Significant Effects

Mitigation, follow-up and monitoring for this Project would contribute to the mitigation or monitoring of cumulative environmental effects. Additional measures have not been identified at this time but could be recommended for future projects following completion of the regional assessment.

Agency Conclusion

Taking into account the implementation of the mitigation measures proposed for the Project, the Agency concludes that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse cumulative environmental effects.

8. Impacts on Potential or Established Aboriginal or Treaty Rights

8.1. Potential or Established Aboriginal or Treaty Rights

The Project is located in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, with the nearest potential drilling location being approximately 400 kilometres from land and roughly 635 kilometres from the nearest Indigenous community on the island of Newfoundland. There are no recognized treaties overlapping the exploration licences or the larger project area. Since there are no Aboriginal or treaty rights in the project area, the pathways for potential impacts to rights of Indigenous groups are through impacts from project activities to migratory species that are harvested or fished within Indigenous groups' traditional territories. The potential impacts were examined through the lens of routine operations and accidents or malfunctions.

Migratory species of particular concern to Indigenous groups include Atlantic Salmon, seals, whales, migratory birds, Swordfish and American Eel. Effects assessments on migratory species are summarized in Section 6.1 Fish and Fish Habitat, Section 6.2 Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles and Section 6.3 Migratory Birds.

8.1.1. Labrador

The Nunatukavut Community Council asserts an Aboriginal right to hunt, fish and gather throughout its asserted traditional territory within Labrador and to resources along the offshore area immediately adjacent to the Labrador coast. The NunatuKavut Community Council holds food, social and ceremonial fishing licences for species that may migrate between the project area and the Labrador coast.

The Innu of Labrador (Innu Nation), who reside primarily on two reserves, Sheshatshiu in central Labrador and Natuashish on the North Coast of Labrador, assert Aboriginal rights to hunt, fish and gather resources within Labrador and along the Labrador coast. Innu Nation holds food, social and ceremonial fishing licences for species that may migrate between the project area and the Labrador coast.

The Nunatsiavut Government is an Inuit regional government within Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2005, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador finalized the Labrador Inuit Lands Claims Agreement, a modern-day treaty between it, Canada and the Nunatsiavut Government. The project area is located greater than 500kilometres southeast of the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area; however, the Nunatsiavut Government holds food, social and ceremonial fishing licences for species that may migrate between the project area and the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area.

8.1.2. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island

Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island Indigenous groupsfootnote 20 (Maritime First Nations) are signatories to Peace and Friendship Treaties, which provide the right to fish for a moderate livelihood. In addition, the Maritime First Nations have an established Aboriginal right to harvest migratory species within their traditional territories for food, social or ceremonial purposes. This includes on land and in the marine environment. Although the Project is located approximately 1000 kilometres east of Nova Scotia, endangered Atlantic Salmon populations, which Maritime First Nations have traditionally harvested in their territories, may pass through the project area as they migrate to or from their natal rivers located within these territories.

8.1.3. Quebec

Innu de Ekuanitshit and Première Nation de Nutashkuan, who reside on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, assert an Aboriginal right to harvest Atlantic Salmon (and other migratory species) for food, social or ceremonial purposes in their territories, including on Anticosti Island, Quebec. Atlantic Salmon populations from the Gulf of St. Lawrence may pass through the project area during migration to or from their natal rivers located within the territories of these Innu Nations of Quebec.

Mi'gmaq of Gesgapegiag, Nation Micmac de Gespeg and Listuguj Mi'gmaq Government (represented by Mi'gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat) are part of the Peace and Friendship Treaties, which provide the right to fish for a moderate livelihood. In addition, the Mi'gmaq of Quebec have an established Aboriginal right to harvest migratory species within their traditional territories for food, social or ceremonial purposes, including Atlantic Salmon that may pass through the project area as they migrate to or from their natal rivers located within these territories.

8.2. Potential Adverse Impacts of the Project on Potential or Established Aboriginal or Treaty Rights

This section summarizes how the Project may impact potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights. AppendixC provides a summary of concerns identified by Indigenous groups during this EA.

Proponent's Assessment

The proponent stated that most project-related activities would take place in an offshore marine environment, hundreds of kilometres from Indigenous communities. Project-related emissions and discharges and environmental interactions would be localized and short-term in nature, and are unlikely to extend to or affect the physical or social health and well-being or other socioeconomic conditions of an Indigenous community.

The proponent determined through existing documentation and engagement with Indigenous communities, that there are no food, social or ceremonial licences within or near the project area or the local study area. Indigenous communities do not otherwise undertake the current use of resources in the marine environment for traditional purposes within or near these areas. This does not mean that those Indigenous communities would not fish in those areas in the future. However, given the nature of the Project, including its limited, localized and short-term environmental disturbances, and the associated small safety exclusion zone, it is not anticipated that there would be adverse effects to any such fishing activity, even if it did occur in the local study area over the course of the Project.

For migratory marine species, and Atlantic Salmon in particular, the proponent noted that Labrador populations of Atlantic Salmon are unlikely to migrate through the project area, but individuals from the island of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and the Gulf of St. Lawrence could pass through the project area to and from their maturation and winter feeding grounds in the Labrador Sea and off Greenland. In addition, individuals appear to congregate south of the project area, near the southern and eastern slopes of the Grand Banks, and east of the Strait of Belle Isle prior to migrating back to natal rivers. The proponent stated that there is little to no data to support the project area being used by Atlantic Salmon as overwintering habitat or as a major feeding area (see Section 6.1 and 6.5 for additional detail). Furthermore, it stated that the potential effects of planned project activities and overall risks to Atlantic Salmon is low and would not contribute to or exacerbate declines to salmon populations.

The proponent acknowledged that there are some data gaps regarding migratory routes. The understanding of salmon migration continues to evolve and additional data on migratory routes of salmon may supplement the broad research ongoing by DFO, Indigenous groups and the Atlantic Salmon Federation. The proponent committed to contribute to research on the presence and distribution of Atlantic Salmon, which includes potential initiation of new studies through the ESRF, a national industry-funded research program which sponsors environmental and social studies. The ESRF is designed to assist in the decision-making process related to oil and gas exploration and development on Canada's frontier lands. The ESRF has issued a new call for proposals on May 15, 2019 for Environmental and Social Studies related to Atlantic Salmon.

For other migratory species of interest to Indigenous groups, like whales, birds and American Eel, the proponent found that routine project activities would not adversely affect populations. Further, there would be no change in the ability to harvest these species within the regional study area, which includes the traditional territories of all Indigenous communities consulted by the Agency for the Project.

Effects assessments on migratory species of interest to Indigenous groups are summarized in Sections 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3.

Accidental Spill

The proponent indicated that its oil spill modelling showed a limited potential for oil to reach traditional territories of Indigenous communities. Any potential effect from an oil spill would therefore be largely indirect in nature, related to its potential effects on migratory marine species harvested by Indigenous groups. With appropriate mitigation in place, the proponent predicted that accidental events would not be expected to result in significant adverse effects on marine fish, birds or mammals. As such, the proponent stated that there would be little potential for indirect biophysical effects of a spill to decrease the quantity, quality or health of marine species fished by Indigenous groups to an extent that would compromise their ability to continue fishing and harvesting activities. Nevertheless, the proponent would implement various spill prevention and response measures to further reduce the likelihood of a spill and any resultant effects. Taking into account the spill response measures, the proponent found there would not be significant adverse effects to fish and Indigenous groups fishing activities from an accident or malfunction. See Section 7.1 Effects of Accidents and Malfunctions for further analysis and detail.

Views of Indigenous Groups

All participating Indigenous communities expressed concern about the potential for the Project to affect salmon and by extension to adversely impact the Aboriginal right to harvest salmon in their traditional territories. Salmon is a cultural keystone species for Indigenous communities in the Atlantic Region and Indigenous knowledge demonstrated the vital role that salmon plays in culture and sustenance in communities. Project-related sound from routine operations, marine shipping associated with the project, accidents and malfunctions, and cumulative effects were all cited as pathways by which migrating salmon could be adversely affected. Most Indigenous communities requested that the proponent consider the precautionary principle in its assessment owing to the endangered status of certain salmon populations, the lack of data on migration routes and overwintering locations, the high rates of at-sea mortality, climate change and the lack of information on specific effects of offshore drilling on this species. In responding to these concerns, the proponent considered additional research and data related to Atlantic Salmon. Additional information and analysis related to Atlantic Salmon has been summarized above and in Section 6.1.

KMKNO recommended that no drilling activities take place between January and August so as not to interact with migratory Atlantic salmon in the project area.

Several Indigenous communities, including the NunatuKavut Community Council, Sipekne'katik First Nation and Nunatsiavut Government were concerned that drilling muds, cuttings and accidental events would adversely affect breeding and/or feeding grounds of numerous marine species and could cause impacts to food, social and ceremonial fisheries.

Many groups including MTI, KMKNO, and NunatuKavut Community Council requested that the proponent develop Incident Management Plans, Spill Response Plans, Environmental Protection Plans, Safety Plans and Net Environmental Benefit Analyses in consultation with Indigenous communities. MMS and KMKNO recommended that, in the event of a spill, the proponent be required to compensate for any loss of productivity of species harvested by the Mi'kmaq. The proponent committed to engaging Indigenous groups in the development of the Indigenous Communities Fisheries Communications Plans and continue to share information about spill response, consider concerns and issues, and share results and learning from response exercises with Indigenous groups, if requested. MTI relayed that it remains concerned about the risk of a spill affecting migration, spawning or feeding grounds of species of importance to Mi'gmaq culture.

A summary of issues raised by Indigenous groups is presented in Appendix C.

Agency Analysis

In analyzing the Project's impacts on potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights, the Agency relied on information in the proponent's EIS and associated documents, and information provided by Indigenous groups and federal authorities.

Indigenous groups may fish species in their traditional territories that migrate through the project area. However, the Agency determined that because the Project's routine activities would likely have limited effects on these fish species (Section 6) it would also likely have a low/negligible impact on the potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights of Indigenous groups with food, social and ceremonial licences to harvest migratory species. With respect to Atlantic Salmon, a species of particular concern to many Indigenous communities, DFO reviewed applicable information and confirmed that there is uncertainty regarding the at-sea migration patterns and habitat use of this species. It advised that it is possible that some salmon overwinter in the Jeanne d'Arc Basin/Flemish Pass region, and that salmon are likely to be present at some times of the year as they migrate through to and from home rivers, but this is not known to be a significant migration route or overwintering area. DFO has advised that potential effects of the Project on Atlantic Salmon are expected to be negligible to low and spatially and temporally limited. Based on advice from DFO and the C-NLOPB, the Agency determined that limiting drilling activity to certain times of year in an attempt to further mitigate potential effects on Atlantic salmon was not warranted and would unnecessarily limit the timing of proponent's drilling activities.

Although routine project operations would likely have limited effects on species that migrate through the project area, in the unlikely event of a major oil spill (discussed in Section 7.1 Effects of Accidents and Malfunctions), there is the potential for more serious effects on these species, particularly species at risk, and therefore potential impacts on the potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights of Indigenous groups. The potential impacts from a spill event may decrease the quantity, quality and health of the fish harvested by Indigenous groups.

The Agency acknowledges the potential consequences of an accidental spill on Indigenous fishers and Indigenous communities. However, available data shows that the probability of a major subsea blowout is very low and therefore its potential effects would be unlikely to occur. In the unlikely event of a blowout, spill modelling predicts that shoreline oiling would be unlikely, and if it did occur, generally minimal. The Agency notes that the proponent would be required to take all reasonable measures to reduce the probability of an accidental event and ensure that it is prepared to respond effectively if an accidental event does occur. In conjunction with spill response measures, any damages incurred by Indigenous fishers, including the loss of commercial or food, social and ceremonial fisheries, would require compensation in accordance with the Compensation Guidelines Respecting Damages Relating to Offshore Petroleum Activity. The proponent would also be required to develop and implement a Fisheries Communication Plan, which would include procedures to communicate with fishers in the event of an accident or malfunction. Views of Indigenous groups would also be considered in the development of the Spill Response Plan and groups would be provided with the approved version (see Section 7.1 for additional details).

8.3. Proposed Accommodation Measures

Mitigation measures and follow-up identified for fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1), marine mammal and sea turtles (Section 6.2), migratory birds (Section 6.3), commercial fisheries (Section 6.6) and accidents and malfunctions (Section 7.1) would also function as accommodation measures to minimize or avoid potential adverse impacts on potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights. Key mitigation and follow-up measures identified by the Agency are provided in Appendix A. Key requirements related to potential impacts on rights include:

  • ensure that all waste discharges and emissions from the drilling installation into the marine environment are in accordance with the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships;
  • plan and conduct VSP activities in consideration of the Statement of Canadian Practice with respect to the Mitigation of Seismic Sound in the Marine Environment;
  • prepare follow-up programs for fish and fish habitat, marine mammals and sea turtles, and migratory birds to verify the accuracy of the predications made during the EA and to determine the effectiveness of the mitigation measures. Share results of these programs with Indigenous communities as indicated in the Fisheries Communications Plan;
  • in consultation with Indigenous fishers, develop and implement a Fisheries Communication Plan to facilitate and coordinate communication with fishers;
  • provide Indigenous group with an opportunity to review and provide feedback on a draft version of the Spill Response Plan. Provide the approved version to Indigenous groups prior to drilling. Include a procedure to communicate with Indigenous fishers in the event of an accident or malfunction in the Fisheries Communications Plan; and
  • compensate for any damages, including the loss of food, social and ceremonial fisheries in accordance with the Compensation Guidelines Respecting Damages Relating to Offshore Petroleum Activity.

Given the uncertainty about Atlantic Salmon and the importance of the species to Indigenous groups, the proponent has committed to contribute to research on the presence and distribution of Atlantic Salmon in Eastern Canadian offshore areas.

8.4. Issues to be Addressed During the Regulatory Approval Phase

The regulatory approval phase, during which any federal permits or authorizations would be considered, would be completed after the EA is complete. In order to proceed, the Project requires authorization by the C-NLOPB under the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Act. The proponent may also require Fisheries Act authorization and a Species at Risk Act permit from DFO. The federal government would consult Indigenous communities as appropriate prior to making regulatory decisions. The decision to undertake additional Crown consultation would take into consideration the consultation record for the EA.

8.5. Agency Conclusion

After taking into consideration the mitigation measures, the Agency concludes that routine project activities would likely have a low/negligible impact on potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights of Indigenous groups. The Agency expects that any impacts would likely be low-magnitude, short-term and reversible. Mitigation measures would ensure that there would be no interruption in the practice of rights and that rights could be practiced in the same or similar manner as before the Project. The Agency acknowledges that a blowout incident could have more serious repercussions but has a very low probability of occurrence.

Taking into account the analysis of environmental effects of the Project and the related mitigation measures outlined for fish and fish habitat (Section6.1), marine mammal and sea turtles (Section 6.2), migratory birds (Section 6.3), commercial fisheries (Section 6.6) and accidents and malfunctions (Section 7.1), the Agency concludes that the potential impacts of the Project on potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights have been adequately identified and appropriately mitigated.

No specific follow-up measures are identified in relation to potential impacts on asserted or established Aboriginal and treaty rights; however, the Agency considers follow-up measures outlined for fish and fish habitat (Section6.1), commercial fisheries (Section 6.6) and effects of accidents and malfunctions (Section 7.1) would also be effective in confirming potential impacts to potential or established Aboriginal and treaty rights.

9. Agency Conclusion

The Agency considered the proponent's environmental impact statement and responses to information requests from the Agency. Information requirements reflected the views of the public, government agencies, and Indigenous peoples. The Agency also considered the measures that would be implemented to mitigate the Project effects, as well as the follow-up (monitoring) measures to be implemented by the proponent.

The environmental effects of the Project and their significance have been determined using assessment methods and analytical tools that reflect current accepted practices of EA practitioners, including consideration of the effects of potential accidents and malfunctions.

The Agency concludes that the proposed CNOOC International Flemish Pass Exploration Drilling Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, taking into account the implementation of the mitigation measures described in this EA Report.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures and follow-up program requirements for consideration by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change in establishing conditions as part of her decision statement in the event that the Project is permitted to proceed.

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Husky Oil Operation Ltd. 2018. Husky Exploration Drilling Project: Environmental Impact Statement. https://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/evaluations/document/125646?culture=en-CA

International Association of Oil & Gas Producers. 2015. Tiered Preparedness and Response. http://www.ipieca.org/resources/good-practice/tiered-preparedness-and-response/

International Maritime Organization. 1973. International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 (MARPOL Convention). http://www.imo.org/en/about/conventions/listofconventions/pages/international-convention-for-the-prevention-of-pollution-from-ships-(marpol).aspx

Morris, J.G., L.M. Grattan, B.M. Mayer and J.K. Blackburn. 2013. Psychological Responses and Resilience of People and Communities Impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3715935/pdf/tacca1240000191.pdf

National Energy Board, Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, and Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. 2008. Offshore Physical Environmental Guidelines. https://www.neb-one.gc.ca/bts/ctrg/gnthr/2008ffshrphsnvrgd/index-eng.html

National Energy Board, Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, and Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. 2009. Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines for Drilling & Production Activities on Frontier Lands. https://www.neb-one.gc.ca/bts/ctrg/gnthr/2009ffshrchmclgd/index-eng.html

National Energy Board, Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board and Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. 2010. Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines. https://www.cnlopb.ca/wp-content/uploads/guidelines/owtg1012e.pdf

National Energy Board, Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, and Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. 2011. Environmental Protection Plan Guidelines. https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/bts/ctrg/gnthr/drllngprdctnrg/nvrprtctngd-eng.html.

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 2016. Technical Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammal Hearing: Underwater Acoustic Thresholds for Onset of Permanent and Temporary Threshold Shifts. U.S. Dept. of Commer., NOAA. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-OPR-55, 178 p.

Office of the Legislative Counsel Newfoundland and Labrador. 1996. Offshore Certificate of Fitness Newfoundland and Labrador Regulations under the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Newfoundland and Labrador Act. Last amended 2001. https://www.assembly.nl.ca/Legislation/sr/Regulations/rc970018.htm

Office of the Legislative Counsel Newfoundland and Labrador. 2015. Seabird Ecological Reserve Regulations, 2015 under the Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Act. https://www.assembly.nl.ca/Legislation/sr/Regulations/rc150032.htm

One Ocean. No date. Risk Management Matrix Guidelines. http://www.oneocean.ca/pdf/Matrix.pdf

Popper, A.N., A.D. Hawkins, R.R Fay, D.A. Mann, S. Bartol, T.J. Carlson, S. Coombs, W.T. Ellison, R.L. Genrey, M.B. Halvorsen, S. Lokkeborg, P.H. Rogers, B.L. Southall, D.G. Zeddies and W.N. Tavolga. 2014. Sound Exposure Guidelines for Fishes and Sea Turtles. A Technical Report prepared by ANSI-Accredited Standards Committee S3/SC1 and registered with ANSI.

Southall, B.L., Bowles, A.E., Ellison, W.T., Finneran, J.J., Gentry, R.L., Greene, Jr., C.R., Lastal, D., Ketten, D.R., Miller, J.H., and Nachitgall, P.E. 2007. Special Issue: Marine mammal noised exposure criteria: Initial scientific recommendations. Aquat. Mammals, 33(4): 411-521.

UN Environment. No date. Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSA) Slopes of the Flemish Cap and Grand Bank. Retrieved from https://chm.cbd.int/pdf/documents/marineEbsa/204104/1

Wells, N., K. Tucker, K. Allard, M. Warren, S. Olson, L. Gullage, C. Pretty, V. Sutton-Pande and K. Clarke. 2019. Re-evaluation of the Placentia Bay-Grand Banks Area of the Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves Bioregion to Identify and Describe Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Res. Doc. 2019/049. viii + 151 p. http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas-sccs/Publications/ResDocs-DocRech/2019/2019_049-eng.pdf

Williams, U. and Chardine, J. No date. The Leach's Storm-Petrel: General Information and Handling Instructions. https://www.cnlopb.ca/wp-content/uploads/cggservices/stormpetrel.pdf

11. Appendices

Appendix A: Key Mitigation and Follow-up Measures Identified by the Agency

Valued Component (VC) Mitigation Follow-up
Fish and Fish Habitat (Section 6.1)
  • · prepare a pre-drill seabed investigation plan for each well site and submit to DFO and the C-NLOPB for review and approval prior to implementing the survey. The plan should be designed to:
    • o collect high-definition visual data to confirm the presence or absence of sensitive environmental features, including aggregations of habitat-forming corals or sponges;
    • o identify the equipment used for the surveys, to be operated by a qualified individual; and
    • o include information on survey transect length and pattern around each well site, which should be based on applicable drill cutting dispersion model results. Transects around anchor sites should extend at least 50 metres from the extent of each structure.
  • · based on approved plans, undertake a seabed investigation survey at each well location and around each anchor point prior to commencing drilling a well. Retain a qualified independent marine scientist to provide advice in real-time;
  • · provide the results of the seabed investigation survey to the C-NLOPB and DFO prior to commencing drilling. In addition, provide a description of additional mitigation and monitoring based on the results of the survey and predicted areas of sedimentation and disturbance. Results of the surveys should be provided to Indigenous groups and posted online for public access;
  • · if aggregations of habitat-forming corals or sponges or other environmentally sensitive features are identified when undertaking the survey:
    • o relocate the anchors or the well and/or redirect cuttings discharges to ensure that the drilling installation, anchors or drill muds and cuttings discharges will not affect them, unless not technically feasible. No drilling should occur before a decision is made by the C-NLOPB and DFO regarding appropriate mitigation and monitoring; or
    • o if it is determined, to the C-NLOPB's satisfaction, that it is not technically feasible to relocate the anchors or the well or redirect cuttings discharges, conduct a comprehensive assessment of the potentially-affected benthic habitat in consultation with DFO prior to drilling to determine the potential for non-compliance with the fish and fish habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act and related options for mitigation to reduce any identified risk.
  • · select chemicals to be used during the Project in accordance with the Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines and use lower toxicity drilling muds and biodegradable and environmentally-friendly additives within muds and cements, where feasible.
  • · ensure that all discharges from the MODU meet the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines;
  • · transport spent or excess synthetic-based muds that cannot be re-used during drilling operations to shore for disposal at an approved facility;
  • · ensure that all discharges from supply vessels meet or exceed the standards established in the MARPOL;
  • · conduct a pre-drill survey with qualified individual(s) at each well site to determine the presence of any unexploded ordnance or other seabed hazards. If any such ordnance or seabed hazard is detected, avoid disturbing or manipulating it and contact the nearest Joint Rescue Coordination Centre and the C-NLOPB prior to commencing drilling to determine an appropriate course of action; and
  • · implement mitigation listed in Section 6.2 Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles related to the conduct of VSP surveys.
  • · monitor the concentration of synthetic-based muds on drill cuttings to verify that the discharge meets, at a minimum, the performance target specified in the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines. Report results to the C-NLOPB;
  • · for the first well on each exploration licence and for any well where drilling is undertaken in an area determined by the seabed investigation survey to be sensitive benthic habitat, conduct specific follow-up monitoring, including:
    • o measurement of sediment deposition extent and thickness (e.g., core samples and/or high definition visual data) post-drilling and prior to departing the location to verify drill cuttings dispersion modelling predictions;
    • o survey of benthic fauna present after drilling has been concluded;
    • o reporting of results, including a comparison of modelling results to in situ results, to the C-NLOPB and DFO; and
    • o results should be provided to Indigenous groups and posted online for public access.
  • · participate in or support research on the presence and distribution of Atlantic Salmon in Eastern Canadian offshore areas and update the C-NLOPB and Indigenous groups annually on research activities. Research initiatives can be explored through organizations such as the ESRF and through input from and collaboration with Indigenous groups; and
  • · implement the follow-up measures listed in Section 6.2 Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles related to the verification of underwater sound as a result of the Project.
Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles (Section 6.2)
  • · conduct VSP surveys in accordance with or exceeding the Statement of Canadian Practice with Respect to the Mitigation of Seismic Sound in the Marine Environment, including:
    • o establishing a safety (observation) zone of a minimum of 500 metres around the sound source;
    • o implementing cetacean detection technology, such as passive acoustic monitoring, concurrent with visual observations;
    • o gradually increasing the sound source intensity over a period of at least 20 minutes (ramp up), adopting a pre-ramp up watch of 30 minutes whenever survey activities are scheduled to occur and delaying ramp up if a marine mammal or sea turtle is sighted within the safety zone; and
    • o shutting down the sound source upon observing or detecting any marine mammal or sea turtle within the 500-metre safety zone.
    • · to reduce risks of collisions with marine mammals and sea turtles (except during an emergency):
    • o limit supply vessel movements to established shipping lanes where they are available; and
    • o when and where such speeds do not present a risk to safety of navigation, reduce supply vessel speed to seven knots (13 kilometres per hour) when a marine mammal or sea turtle is observed or reported within 400 metres of the vessel.
  • · in consultation with DFO, develop a Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Monitoring Plan which includes marine mammal observer requirements using qualified individuals. Provide the plan to the C-NLOPB and DFO for review and approval 30 days prior to initiating activities. The plan would describe:
  • o monitoring during VSP, including information on visual monitoring and specific passive acoustic or equivalent technology monitoring configuration that would be implemented, to enable verification that species that may occur within the safety zone can be detected and to ensure the ability to effectively monitor for all marine mammal vocalization frequencies that may occur within the exploration licences.
  • · implement all mitigation listed in Section 6.1 Fish and Fish Habitat related to abandonment procedures, chemical selection, disposal of spent synthetic-based muds and waste discharge.
  • · record and report the activities, observations and results of the Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Monitoring Plan to the C-NLOPB and DFO;
  • · promptly report any collisions with marine mammals or sea turtles to the C-NLOPB, DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard Environmental Emergencies Reporting Number (1 800 565-1633) and notify Indigenous groups;
  • · verify predicted underwater sound levels with field measurements during the first well per exploration licence. Provide the plan on how this would be conducted to the C-NLOPB and DFO in advance of drilling and the monitoring results after well suspension or abandonment, as directed by C-NLOPB and DFO; and
  • · provide follow-up program results to Indigenous groups and post online for public access.
Migratory Birds (6.3)
  • · follow ECCC's (2016) Procedures for Handling and Documenting Stranded Birds Encountered on Infrastructure Offshore Atlantic Canada, which identifies procedures for safe capture and handling of different types of birds;control project lighting, including the direction, timing, intensity and glare of light fixtures, while meeting operational, health and safety requirements;
  • · restrict flaring to the minimum required to characterize a well's hydrocarbon potential and as necessary for the safety of the operation;
  • · where acceptable to the C-NLOPB, conduct formation testing using a drill pipe conveyed test assembly or similar technology rather than formation testing with flaring;
  • · if formation testing while flaring is required, notify the C-NLOPB to request an authorization at least 30 days in advance of flaring to:
  • · determine whether the flaring would occur during a period of migratory bird vulnerability (identified in consultation with ECCC);
  • · identify how adverse environmental effects on migratory birds would be avoided, including opportunities to reduce nighttime flaring (e.g., by starting flaring for shorter periods in the morning as opposed to at night);
  • · operate a water-curtain barrier around the flare during flaring; and
  • · implement all mitigation listed in Section 6.1 Fish and Fish Habitat related to chemical selection, waste discharge and the disposal of spent synthetic-based muds, as well as those in Section 6.4 Special Areas related to the maintenance of buffers for supply and support vessels and helicopters over active bird areas and special areas for birds.
  • · prepare a follow-up program in consultation with ECCC to monitor effects on migratory birds to verify the accuracy of the predictions made during the EA and to determine the effectiveness of the mitigation measures. As part of the follow-up program:
    • o conduct monitoring for marine birds from the MODU using a trained observer following ECCC's Eastern Canada Seabirds at Sea Standardized Protocol for Pelagic Seabird Surveys from Moving and Stationary Platforms;
    • o develop, in consultation with ECCC, and implement a protocol for systematic daily monitoring of the MODU and supply vessels for the presence of stranded birds. The protocol would include information on the frequency of searches, reporting procedures and training requirements, including qualifications of those delivering the training;
    • o if stranded birds are observed, follow ECCC's (2016) Procedures for Handling and Documenting Stranded Birds Encountered on Infrastructure Offshore Atlantic Canada;
    • o document and report the results of any monitoring carried out, including information on the level of effort when no birds are found and a discussion of whether the mitigation measures (e.g., water curtain) were proven effective and if additional measures are required; and
    • o provide the monitoring and follow-up program and its results to the C-NLOPB and ECCC. Results should be provided to Indigenous groups and posted online for public access.
Special Areas (Section 6.4)

The Agency determined that the measures to mitigate potential effects on fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), and migratory birds (Section 6.3) would also mitigate potential effects on special areas. The Agency identified the following additional key measures to mitigate the Project's effects on special areas:

  • · restrict helicopter flying altitude to a minimum altitude of 300 metres (except during take-off and landing) over active bird colonies and to a lateral distance of 1000 metres from Cape St. Francis and Witless Bay Islands Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (unless there is an emergency situation); and
  • · ensure supply and other support vessels maintain a 300-metre buffer from Cape St. Francis and Witless Bay Islands Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (unless there is an emergency situation).

· conduct specific follow-up monitoring when drilling in special areas, or adjacent to or near a special area, such that drill cuttings dispersion modelling predicts that cuttings deposition could occur within the special area at level above the biological effects threshold. Monitoring would include:

  • o measurement of sediment deposition extent and thickness post-drilling and prior to departing the location to verify drill cuttings dispersion modelling predictions;
  • o survey of benthic fauna present after drilling has been concluded;
  • o reporting of results, including a comparison of modelling results to in situ results, to the C-NLOPB and DFO;
  • o results should be provided to Indigenous groups and posted online for public access; and
  • o implement all mitigation listed in Section 6.1 Fish and Fish Habitat, Section 6.2 Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles, Section 6.3 Migratory Birds and Section 6.6 Commercial Fisheries.

Federal Species at Risk (Section 6.5)

The Agency determined that the measures to mitigate potential effects on fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), and migratory birds (Section 6.3) would also mitigate potential effects on species at risk and critical habitat. The Agency determined that the proposed follow-up measures for fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), and migratory birds (Section 6.3.) are also appropriate for species at risk and critical habitat.
Commercial Fisheries (Section 6.6)
  • · in consultation with Indigenous groups and commercial fishers, develop and implement a Fisheries Communication Plan to address communications prior to and during drilling, testing and abandonment of each well. The plan should include:
    • o regular updates to provide specific information on plans for project activities and an opportunity for feedback and further exchange of information on specific aspects of interest;
    • o information on safety exclusions zones and suspended and abandoned wellheads;
    • o procedures to notify fishers a minimum of two weeks prior to the start of drilling each well;
    • o information on vessels travelling between Newfoundland and Labrador and exploration licences (e.g., number per week, general route); and
    • o procedures for determining the need for a Fisheries Liaison Officer and/or fisheries guide vessels during MODU movement and the use of a Fisheries Liaison Officer during geophysical programs;
  • · prepare a well abandonment plan, including a wellhead abandonment strategy and submit it to the C-NLOPB for acceptance at least 30 days prior to abandonment of each well. If it is proposed that a wellhead be abandoned on the seafloor in a manner that could interfere with commercial fishing, develop the strategy in consultation with potentially affected Indigenous groups and commercial fishers;
  • · ensure that details of safety exclusion zones and the locations of abandoned wellheads, if left on the seafloor, are published in Notices to Mariners, provided in Notices to Shipping and communicated to fishers;
  • · provide information on the locations of any abandoned wellheads, left on the seafloor, to the Canadian Hydrographic Services for future nautical charts and planning;
  • · ensure ongoing communication with the NAFO Secretariat, using established information exchange mechanisms that are in place with DFO, regarding planned project activities, including timely communication of drilling locations, safety exclusion zones and suspended or abandoned wellheads; and
  • · implement all mitigation listed in fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1) related to providing the results of the seabed investigation survey, wellhead abandonment procedures, selection of chemicals, disposal of spent synthetic-based muds and the discharge of waste.
  • · report annually to the C-NLOPB on whether there have been incidents of lost or damaged fishing gear associated with the Project, including project-related vessels. In addition, the envisioned Fisheries Communication Plan would provide a means of identifying potential issues should they arise.
Current Use of Lands and Resources for Traditional Purposes and Health and Socioeconomic Conditions of Indigenous Peoples (Section 6.7) The Agency determined that the measures to mitigate effects on fish and fish habitat (Section6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), migratory birds (Section 6.3) and commercial fisheries (Section6.6) would also mitigate effects on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and the health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples. The Agency has not identified any follow-up measures specific to current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples and notes that there are related measures proposed for fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1), marine mammals and sea turtles (Section 6.2), migratory birds (Section 6.3) and commercial fisheries (Section 6.6).
Accidents and Malfunctions (Section 7.1)
  • · undertake all reasonable measures to prevent accidents and malfunctions that may cause adverse environmental effects and effectively implement emergency response procedures and contingencies developed for the Project;
  • · submit a Well Capping and Containment Plan, which includes strategies and measures for well capping, containment of fluids lost from the well, and the drilling of a relief well(s), as well as options to reduce overall response timelines.
  • · Develop and implement procedures to provide up-to-date information to the C-NLOPB prior to drilling and during drilling related to the availability of appropriate cappings stacks and vesels, and appropriate drilling rigs capable of drilling a relief well at the project site;
  • · Prior to drilling, submit a Spill Response Plan which must include:
    • o procedures to respond to an oil spill (e.g., oil spill containment, oil recovery) and spills of other types (e.g., synthetic-based mud or cuttings spill);
    • o reporting thresholds and notification procedures;
    • o measures for wildlife response, protection and rehabilitation (e.g., collection and cleaning of marine mammals, birds and sea turtles, including species at risk) and for shoreline protection and clean-up, developed in consultation with the C-NLOPB; and
    • o specific role and responsibility descriptions for offshore operations and onshore responders.
  • · provide Indigenous groups with an opportunity to review and provide feedback on a draft version of the Spill Response Plan. Provide the approved version to Indigenous groups and make it publicly available on the Internet;
  • · conduct an exercise of the Spill Response Plan prior to the commencement of project activities and adjust the plan to address any deficiencies identified during the exercise. Provide results of the exercise to Indigenous groups following its review by the C-NLOPB;
  • · review and update the Spill Response Plan as required during drilling and before commencing a new well;
  • · prepare a plan for avoidance of collisions with vessels and other hazards which may reasonably be expected in the exploration licences and submit to the C-NLOPB for acceptance prior to drilling;
  • · undertake a spill impact mitigation assessment to consider all realistic and achievable spill response options and identify those techniques (including the possible use of dispersants) that would provide for the best opportunities to minimize environmental consequences and provide it to the C-NLOPB for review prior to drilling. Relevant federal government departments would provide advice to the C-NLOPB through the ECCC Environmental Emergency Science Table. Publish the spill impact mitigation assessment on the Internet;
  • · in the event of an uncontrolled subsea release from the well, begin the immediate mobilization of a capping stack and associated equipment to the site of the uncontrolled subsea release. Simultaneously, commence the mobilization of a relief well MODU;
  • · if drilling is anticipated in water depths of 500 metres or less, undertake further analysis to confirm the capping stack technology selected can be deployed and operated safely at the proposed depth and submit this analysis to the C-NLOPB for approval;
  • · compensate for any damages, including the loss of food, social and ceremonial fisheries in accordance with the Compensation Guidelines Respecting Damages Relating to Offshore Petroleum Activity;
  • · include a procedure to notify Indigenous groups and commercial fishers, including international fishers in the event of an accident or malfunction in the Fisheries Communications Plan and to communicate the results of any associated monitoring and any potential health risks. Information that is provided to Indigenous groups and fishers needs to present a realistic estimation of potential health risks on consuming country foods, such that their consumption is not reduced unless there is a likely health risk from the consumption of these foods or specific quantities of these foods. If there is a potential health risk, consumption advisories should be considered; and
  • · include procedures in the Fisheries Communications Plan to engage in two-way communication with Indigenous groups and commercial fishers in the event of a spill requiring a tier 2 or tier 3 response.
  • · as required by and in consultation with the C-NLOPB, monitor the environmental effects of a spill on components of the marine environment until specific endpoints identified in consultation with expert government departments are achieved. As applicable, monitoring shall include:
    • o sensory testing of seafood for taint and chemical analysis for oil concentrations;
    • o measuring levels of contamination in fish species with results integrated into a human health risk assessment to determine the fishing area closure status;
    • o monitoring marine mammals, sea turtles and birds for signs of contamination or oiling and reporting results to the C-NLOPB, DFO and ECCC; and
    • o monitoring benthic organisms and habitats in the event of a synthetic-based mud spill or other event that could result in smothering or localized effects to the benthic environment.
  • · develop a procedure to communicate monitoring results to Indigenous and commercial fishers, as well as Indigenous groups.
Effects of the Environment on the Projects (Section 7.2)
  • · in consultation with the C-NLOPB and ECCC, implement a physical environment monitoring program in accordance with the Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Drilling and Production Regulations and meet or exceed the requirements of the Offshore Physical Environmental Guidelines;
  • · in consultation with the C-NLOPB, establish and enforce practices and limits for operating in all conditions that may be reasonably expected, including poor weather, severe sea state or sea ice or iceberg conditions;
  • · in consultation with the C-NLOPB and as part of the required Safety Plan, develop an Ice Management Plan including procedures for detection, surveillance, data collection, reporting, forecasting and avoidance or deflection of icebergs; and
  • · in consultation with the C-NLOPB , implement measures to ensure that the MODU has the ability to quickly disconnect the riser from the well in event of an emergency or severe weather conditions.
  • · in accordance with the Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Drilling and Production Regulations, report annually to the C-NLOPB on whether there has been a need to modify operations based on severe environmental conditions and on the efficacy of the practices and limits established for operating in poor weather, high sea state, or sea ice or iceberg conditions.
Cumulative Environmental Effects (Section 7.3) Mitigation for the Project would contribute to the mitigation of cumulative environment effects. Additional measures have not been identified at this time, but could be recommended for future projects following completion of the Regional Assessment. Follow-up, and monitoring for the Project would contribute to the monitoring of cumulative environment effects. Additional measures have not been identified at this time but could be recommended for future projects following completion of the Regional Assessment.

Appendix B: Summary of Proponent's Proposed Mitigation Measures and Follow-up

Valued Component Mitigation Follow-up
Fish and Fish Habitat (Section 6.1)

· Plan and implement the Project so as to avoid or minimize environmental discharges and emissions from its associated operations and activities. This would be achieved through compliance with relevant regulations and standards and company procedures regarding materials selection and use, waste management, and discharge prevention and management for any potential liquid, solid or air emissions. This would include:

o undertaking the selection and screening of chemicals pursuant to the Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines and Production Activities on Frontier Lands. Where technically feasible, lower toxicity drilling fluids and chemicals would preferentially be used;

o treating operational discharges (such as sewage, deck drainage, bilge/cooling water, wash fluids, produced water, other waste) prior to release in compliance with the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines, MARPOL and other applicable regulations and standards;

o using oil-water separators to treat contained oil-contaminated fluids, with collected oil properly stored and disposed of;

o implementing appropriate measures for the handling, storage, transportation and on-shore disposal of solid and hazardous wastes;

o complying with the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the National Ambient Air Quality Objectives, the Newfoundland Air Pollution Control Regulations and MARPOL for specified criteria air contaminants in exhaust emissions and relevant regulations under MARPOL;

o during drilling activities that occur after the riser has been installed, returning synthetic-based mud-associated drill cuttings to the MODU and treating them in accordance with the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines before being discharged to the marine environment. Synthetic-based mud drill cuttings are typically discharged below the sea surface in order to maximize their dispersion and thus, to help avoid or reduce any associated surface sheen and their accumulation on the seabed; and

o conducting maceration of sewage and kitchen waste in accordance with MARPOL and the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines.

· Minimize the frequency of vessel and aircraft traffic transits associated with the Project to the extent possible.

· Use local vessels, MODUs and equipment where technically suitable and available to reduce the potential for introduction of aquatic invasive species. All foreign vessels used for the Project operating in Canadian jurisdiction would comply with the Ballast Water Control and Management Regulations of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 during any ballasting and de-ballasting activities. This may include requiring all foreign vessels and MODUs to carry out ballast tank or system flushing prior to arriving in Canadian waters to mitigate the spread of alien invasive species.

· Undertake a seabed investigation survey with a drop camera/video system prior to the start of drilling activity to investigate the potential presence of sensitive benthic organisms (such as corals or sponges) or habitats in proximity of the well site and any anchor / transponder locations.

· Outline the details of the seabed investigation in a well site specific Seabed Investigation Plan which would be provided to the C-NLOPB and DFO for their review and acceptance prior to commencing the seabed investigation and would include the following:

o a discussion of the coral and sponge species specific to the offshore Newfoundland and Labrador area and information on the species that may be present in the planned well site location (if known);

o proposed survey methods for hard coral, soft coral and sponges;

o the proposed survey area which would include an area a minimum of 250-metre radius from the wellhead location in an eight transect radial pattern (50 metre from anchor and transponder locations) and would focus on coral colonies/gardens as well as sponges and would record observations of any species at risk;

o a requirement for an assessment of the presence of sensitive benthic organisms or habitats in real time by a marine scientist onboard the MODU or support vessel;

o a requirement for preparation of a summary report (outlining the findings and proposed mitigative actions including mapping) upon completion of each seabed investigation that would be provided to the C-NLOPB and DFO for their review and acceptance prior to commencing drilling. The summary report would outline the following:

o results of survey(s);

§ predicted areas of sedimentation by drill cuttings deposition;

§ predicted areas of sedimentation by bottom contact of subsea equipment;

§ physical disturbance predicted by bottom contact of subsea equipment;

§ description of the mitigation to be used based on several factors (e.g., percentage of living reef-building coral, number of living soft corals per a defined area, condition of hard and soft corals, percentage of sponge coverage, predicted degree of sedimentation and bottom contact); and

§ potential requirements for monitoring.

· The drill cuttings modelling predictions would inform the extent of the pre-drill seabed investigation survey as well as the placement of the well site.

· Should coral colonies (as defined below) be observed within or in proximity to a planned well site location, apply a "set-back" from these organisms based on the drill cuttings modeling predictions, to avoid or reduce the potential for direct interaction with sensitive organisms or other potential effects. The implementation of this mitigation would adhere to the C-NLOPB's standard regulatory guidance on this matter, as follows:

o Drilling activities, including moorings, shall not occur within 100 metres of coral colonies without the prior approval of the Chief Conservation Officer. A coral colony is defined as:

§ Lophelia pertusa reef complex; or

§ five or more large corals (larger than 30 centimeters in height or width) within a 100square metre area.

o If moving the well site in this manner is not feasible, consult with the C-NLOPB to determine an appropriate course of action.

· Base the placement locations of anchors, transponders or other subsea equipment on the agreed upon approach outlined in the Seabed Investigation Summary Report.

· During any associated well testing, flare any produced hydrocarbons and small amounts of produced water using high-efficiency burners. If there is a significant amount of produced water encountered, treat it in accordance with the relevant regulatory requirements prior to ocean discharge.

· If removal of the wellhead is required as part of abandonment procedures, complete it via mechanical separation (i.e., cutting, as opposed to the use of explosives).

· Mitigation measures that apply to marine mammals and sea turtles and migratory birds (below) may also apply to fish and fish habitat.

· Monitor the implementation of mitigation measures in accordance with existing operational procedures and policies.

· If drilling occurs in an area that is considered sensitive based on the results of the seabed investigation survey (and confirmed by DFO and the C-NLOPB), develop a follow-up program (and submit it to DFO and C-NLOPB for review prior to commencement of drilling) to determine the effectiveness of mitigation measures in protecting the sensitive benthic habitat. The seabed investigation and the drill cuttings modelling predictions would support development of the follow-up program and would include:

o post-drilling seabed core samples to measure depth of drill cuttings deposition; and/or

o post-drilling visual assessment using high-definition images/video.

· Through the ESRF, support research to address knowledge gaps regarding Atlantic Salmon migration.

Migratory Birds (Section 6.3)

· Mitigation measures that apply to fish and fish habitat and marine mammals and sea turtles (above) would also apply to migratory birds.

· Operate in accordance with the Measures to Protect and Monitor Seabirds in Petroleum-Related Activity in the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Area.

· Avoid known and observed bird colonies, other significant aggregations of avifauna and other identified sensitive areas, where possible, in the planning and conduct of project-related exploration activities in accordance with the Seabird Ecological Reserve Regulations, 2015. This would include prohibiting aircraft from flying at an altitude of less than 300 metres over ecological reserves over specified time periods and ensuring project-related support vessel traffic would avoid known seabird colonies and utilize existing and established routes wherever possible.

· Minimize the frequency of vessel and aircraft transits and avoid low-level aircraft operations, wherever possible and feasible.

· Minimize project-related artificial lighting to the greatest extent possible without compromising safety.

· Keep flaring to the minimum amount necessary and require the use of a water curtain around flares.

· Notify the C-NLOPB of plans to flare in association with formation flow testing. The C-NLOPB would then consult with ECCC to determine a safe timeline to reduce effects on migrating birds.

· Conduct routine searches for, and collection and release of, stranded birds on the platform and supply vessels using ECCC's Oiled Birds Protocol and Protocol for Collecting Dead Birds From Platforms, Best Practices for Stranded Birds Encountered Offshore Atlantic Canada and The Leach's Storm Petrel: General Information and Handling Instructions (Williams and Chardine, n.d.).

· Obtain a seabird handling permit from ECCC.

· Develop and implement a stranded seabird observation protocol in consultation with ECCC, which includes information on frequency of searches, reporting procedures and training requirements.

· Implement a live bird monitoring and observation program in accordance with ECCC's monitoring protocol from fixed platforms that would include having a trained environmental observer onboard to record marine bird sightings during operations.

· Submit a yearly report of the seabird monitoring program's results, with any recommended changes, to the C-NLOPB and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles (Section 6.2)

· Mitigation measures that apply to fish and fish habitat (above) would also apply to marine mammals and sea turtles.

· For any required VSP surveys using seismic sound arrays, operate in compliance with the Statement of Canadian Practice with respect to the Mitigation of Seismic Sound in the Marine Environment. Key mitigations that would be applied include:

o keeping seismic sound levels at the minimum level possible based on the associated technical requirements for the survey;

o implementing a gradual "ramp up" procedure at the commencement of the VSP survey, to allow any mobile marine animals to move away from the area if they are disturbed by it; and

o planning the shut-down of the seismic sound arrays or reduction to the smallest single source element during any required maintenance activities.

· Use existing vessel travel routes wherever practical.

· Maintain a steady vessel course and vessel speed (vessel transit speeds would typically be between 10 to 12 knots and occasionally 13 to 14 knots).

· Adjust vessel speed or direction to reduce potential effects if marine mammals and/or sea turtles are observed in close proximity to project activities.

· Maintain MODU and supply vessel equipment per contractor management system, to ensure all equipment is properly maintained / operating efficiently and reducing the risk of excess noise.

· Use a trained marine mammal observer to continuously observe a pre-determined zone starting 30 minutes prior to the start-up of the sound source array and during VSP surveys.

· Monitor and report (by trained marine mammal observers) on marine mammal and sea turtle sightings during any VSP surveys.

· If a marine mammal or sea turtle is observed within the pre-determined zone (500 metres radius surrounding the VSP sound source) while the sound source is in operation, shutdown the sound source array and start the 30 minute monitoring period again.

· Monitor the implementation of mitigation measures in accordance with existing operational procedures and policies.

· Submit observation reports annually to the C-NLOPB and DFO.

· Report any vessel strikes of marine mammals or sea turtles to DFO within 24hours.

Special Areas (Section 6.4)

· Proposed mitigation measures related to fish and fish habitat, marine mammals and sea turtles, migratory birds (above) and commercial fisheries (below) would mitigate potential effects on special areas.

· If drilling is proposed within an identified fisheries closure area or if drilling cuttings could be deposited within such an area, a follow-up program would be proposed to determine the effectiveness of mitigation measures in protecting sensitive benthic habitat. The proponent would consult with DFO and the C-NLOPB on the requirements for such a follow-up program which may include parameters such as:

o post-drilling seabed core samples to measure drill cuttings deposition; and

o post-drilling visual assessment using high-definition images/video.

Species at Risk (Section 6.5)

· Proposed mitigation measures related to fish and fish habitat, marine mammals and sea turtles, and migratory birds (above) would mitigate potential effects on species at risk. · Proposed follow-up programs related to fish and fish habitat indicated, marine mammals and sea turtles, and migratory birds (above) would mitigate potential effects on species at risk.
Commercial Fisheries (Section 6.6)

· Proposed mitigation measures related to fish and fish habitat (above) would also apply to commercial fisheries.

· Issue a Navigational Warning for planned project activities (including activity, safety zones, installation locations and timing) and information about contacting project representatives (e.g., the single point of contact).

· Continue communications and regular information exchanges (Fish, Food and Allied Workers-Unifor, DFO Science Branch, One Ocean, other stakeholders) about current fishing plans and project activities. It is also expected that regular updates would be submitted to the C-NLOPB before each year's operations commence, which would report on recent information exchanges, updates, any changes in the fisheries (including any new fisheries) and current-year project plans and schedules and associated mitigations.

· Conduct at-sea monitoring of, and direct communications with, vessels (radar, automatic identification system, direct at-sea radio communications) and use of automatic identification system by all sea-going project vessels.

· Establish and communicate the identified safety zones (with ship hailing protocols and other measures) to protect the safety of personnel and equipment and eliminate the risk of fishing gear or vessel damage near the MODU.

· Use of a Fisheries Liaison Officer onboard survey vessels and during MODU movements as appropriate; the requirement for this is to be determined in discussion with regulatory authorities and the Fish, Food and Allied Workers -Unifor in accordance with the Risk Management Matrix Guidelines developed by One Ocean.

· Establishment, implementation and communication of a compensation program, in accordance with applicable C-NLOPB requirements, for damages to physical fishing assets resulting from routine project activities and a compensation program for economic damages to fish harvesters resulting from project-related spills, escape of debris or dropped objects left in place.

· Designation and use of a single point of contact during marine operations to facilitate Project-fishing industry communications in real time and to respond to gear/vessel damage claims.

· Communication of the locations of any wellheads left in place to harvesters and appropriate authorities for inclusion on nautical charts for the information of commercial fishers and other mariners as applicable.

· Ensure ongoing communication and information exchange mechanisms are implemented throughout the Project.
Current Use of Lands and Resources for Traditional Purposes and Health and Socioeconomic Conditions of Indigenous Peoples (Section 6.7)

· Develop and implement an Indigenous Fisheries Communications Plan. Indigenous groups would be invited to provide comments on the plan.

· Proposed mitigation measures related to fish and fish habitat, marine mammals, migratory birds and commercial fisheries (above) would mitigate potential effects on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples.

· No monitoring or follow-up specific to Indigenous communities and activities have been proposed. Proposed monitoring and follow-up related to fish and fish habitat, marine mammals, migratory birds and commercial fisheries (above) would mitigate potential effects on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples.
Accidents and Malfunctions (Section 7.1)

· Ensure wells are designed for the full range of anticipated risks, including kickfootnote 21 tolerance.

· Inspect, test and maintain well barriers including casing, wellhead and blowout preventerfootnote 22 equipment.

· Ensure real time pore pressure assessment while drilling and implement kick detection and instrumentation.

· Use of highly trained and competent personnel with appropriate level of deepwater well control training.

· Prepare and implement prevention, contingency and response plans including:

o Onshore Emergency Response Plan – details the proponent's emergency response organization, process and tactical support activities to assist the field asset (e.g., support vessel or MODU) dealing with an emergency event;

o Vessel Emergency Response Plan – deals with managing emergency events related to supply vessels;

o Oil Spill Response Plan - defines protocols and strategies for responding to an oil spill of any size; and

o Well Control Emergency Response Plan – describes contingency equipment, procedures and agreements in advance of an event to facilitate a prompt and immediate response, including detailed plans for mobilization and deployment of a capping stack and other containment equipment to the well site.

· Use of highly training and competent personnel with appropriate certifications.

· Complete shallow hazard survey and assessment in order to position wells away from potential hazards.

· Establish special shallow gas procedures during drilling of riserless sections.

· Conduct audits and assurance processes for drilling contractor and tangible equipment ordered.

· Ensure that the blowout preventer is enabled with autoshear and deadman features as well as have remote operated vehicles with intervention equipment to manually function the blowout preventer.

· Maintain riser margin or ensure other mitigation for two barriers prior to disconnect.

· Measures to prevent loss of MODU stability include:

o ensuring ballast control and positioning system is continuously manned;

o conducting a marine safety inspection during MODU acceptance process;

o conducting ballast control procedures and computerize daily stability calculations;

o conducting ballast control drills and test MODU alarms;

o conducting regular maintenance and inspections in order to test and check equipment;

o ensuring adequate safety equipment and lifeboats to accommodate all personnel onboard;

o conducting a weak point analysis to detect potential system failure above the blowout preventer;

o having in place an emergency disconnect protocol to shut-down in well and allow the MODU to move;

o conducting a MODU audit and inspections;

o conducting a mooring analysis (single or multi line failure); and

o conducting weather forecasting.

· Measures to prevent vessel collision include:

o selecting appropriate dynamically positioned class for support vessels and MODU;

o monitoring the safety zone by the MODU and standby support vessels;

o establishing MODU and support vessel specific operating criteria;

o establishing marine contractor selection process; and

o ensuring vessels are in compliance with applicable legislation and regulations (e.g., Canada Shipping Act, Collision Regulations, Environmental Response Arrangements Regulations, MARPOL and have been inspected by Transport Canada and approved for operations by the C-NLOPB before beginning any project related work.

· Measures to prevent dropped objects include:

o establishing a riser management system; and

o conducting a riser analysis including Vortex Induced Vibration, drive off/drift off and transit analyses.

· Ensure full Tier 2 or 3 oil spill response capability within the Canada exclusive economic zone and on the outer Canadian continental shelf (outside the exclusive economic zone).

· Develop an Oil Spill Response Plan which would outline measures and activities that could be implemented in the event of a spill, including:

o surveillance and monitoring (e.g., on the water and in-air resources and satellite tracking) to obtain information on the extent, trajectory, and behaviour of a spill, and also to determine the effectiveness of tactical response activities;

o mechanical containment and recovery, including the use of booms, skimmers and oleophilic material to contain and recover spilled oil;

o chemical dispersion to break the oil into smaller droplets and promote degradation;

o in-situ burning to quickly reduce the volume of oil;

o natural degradation;

o shoreline protection and clean-up measures, including the use of booms or barriers, use of shoreline clean-up teams and shore treatment (e.g., low pressure flushing, mechanical recovery, manual cleaning, soil washing, plowing, etc.);

o oiled wildlife response and measures to attempt to deter fauna from affected areas;

o long-term remediation, including sample collection and analysis, to ensure that any potential post-spill effects have been identified and characterized, and a program established until the receiving environment has been restored to an appropriate and acceptable condition;

o issue a Navigational Warning to provide timely notice of fisheries closure areas; and

o implementation of a compensation program for economic damages to fish harvesters resulting from project-related spills, escape of debris or dropped objects left in place.

· Post-spill sampling and supporting information program for harvested foods.
Effects of the Environment on the Project (Section 7.2)

· Engineering design of MODU used would adhere to national and international standards, which consider physical environmental criteria (e.g., temperature, wind, snow, waves, ice loading, drainage), as well as the life of the expected design (i.e., choosing materials with sufficient durability and corrosion resistance).

· Obtain a Certificate of Fitness from an independent, third-party certifying authority prior to the onset of drilling. The certifying authority may only issue a certificate of fitness in accordance with the Newfoundland Offshore Certificate of Fitness Regulations where it has verified that the installation is fit for purpose, can function as intended and can remain in compliance with those regulations without compromising safety and polluting at the drill site or in the region in which the particular installation is to be operated. In addition, modifications or repairs to an installation that affect its strength, stability, integrity, operability, safety or regulatory compliance would require review and acceptance by the certifying authority to ensure the continued validity of the certificate.

· Ensure the drilling installation and vessels are equipped with proper obstruction lighting, navigation lighting and foghorns and maintain these in working condition.

· Ensure communication systems are in place and functioning properly.

· Monitor icing conditions on vessels, helicopter and drilling installations.

· Conduct physical environment data observations, weather forecasting and reporting in accordance with the Offshore Physical Environmental Guidelines.

· Develop and implement an Ice Management Plan, which would be comprised of: detection, monitoring and assessment, and physical management (e.g., towing or deflecting icebergs; breaking up sea ice). The plan would be submitted to the C-NLOPB as part of the Operation Authorization.

The proponent did not identify any follow-up in relation to potential effects of the environment on the Project.
Cumulative Environmental Effects (Section 7.3) · Proposed mitigation measures that apply for fish and fish habitat, marine mammals and sea turtles, migratory birds, special areas, commercial fisheries, accidents and malfunctions, and effects of the environment on the Project (above) would also apply to cumulative effects. · Proposed follow-up programs that apply for fish and fish habitat, marine mammals and sea turtles, migratory birds, special areas, commercial fisheries, accidents and malfunctions, and effects of the environment on the Project (above) would also apply to cumulative effects.

Appendix C: Summary of Indigenous Concerns

The table below provides a summary of concerns raised by Indigenous groups as well as the proponent's and Agency's responses. Most of these concerns were raised during comment periods and other opportunities for input that occurred during the EA. However, the Indigenous groups have been and are being consulted on several offshore exploratory drilling project EAs, and these projects have similar key components, activities, and related potential effects. Although this table is not intended to be a cumulative collection of all concerns raised across all these different projects, there is a significant amount of overlap, and in certain cases comments submitted on other proposed offshore exploratory drilling projects may have been used to identify and characterize concerns which clearly apply across all of these types of projects in the eastern Newfoundland and Labrador offshore area.

Source Subject Comment or Concern Summary of Proponent's Responses Agency Response
Fish and Fish Habitat

Innu de Ekuanitshit

KMKNO

Qalipu First Nation

Effects on American Eel

Concern related to potential changes to habitat quality (e.g., due to noise from drilling or seismic), food availability and quality, and migration patterns. This species has particular cultural importance for Indigenous communities.

The proponent should provide justification to support the assertion that it is unlikely that American Eels pass through the project area. Additional information on avoidance and mitigation measures for the American Eel is required.

The proponent recognized that American Eel may migrate through the shallow waters in the project area; however, the main threats to this species are largely in freshwater systems. Seismic activities, including those that would be carried out as part of the Project, could result in localized stress and mortality of larval stages at sea but there is no indication that the larval densities at sea that may encounter these activities would result in effects on the population.

The proponent stated that general mitigation measures for fish and fish habitat would avoid or reduce potential adverse effects on American Eel.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent regarding the potential effects of the Project on American Eel and relevant mitigation measures. This information has been incorporated into its analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures and proposed EA conditions for fish and fish habitat and marine mammals and sea turtles, which would mitigate effects on American Eel. These are described in Sections 6.1.3, 6.2.3 and Appendix A, and include selecting chemicals to be used in accordance with the Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines and ensuring that all discharges from a drilling installation meet the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines.

Elsipogtog First Nation

Innu de Ekuanitshit

KMKNO

Mi`kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island (Lennox Island First Nation and Abegweit First Nation)

MFN

MMS

MTI

Innu Nation

Millbrook First Nation

NunatuKavut Community Council

Qalipu First Nation

WNNB

Woodstock First Nation

Effects on Atlantic Salmon

Concern about potential impacts of the Project on migrating salmon populations and the Aboriginal right to fish this species. Effects may include those related to project-related sound, increased shipping, and accidents and malfunctions. The proponent should consider the precautionary principle in its assessment owing to the declining status of populations, including several being designated as endangered, the lack of data on migration routes and overwintering locations, the high rates of at-sea mortality, climate change and the lack of information on specific effects of offshore drilling on this species. Appropriate mitigation and accommodation measures should be outlined.

Recommended that no activities take place between January-August so as not to interact with Atlantic Salmon.

The proponent considered additional information related to migration and behaviour of Atlantic Salmon and incorporated this into its analysis. It stated that the project area is not likely used by Atlantic Salmon as overwintering habitat or as a major feeding area; however, it acknowledged that there are data gaps regarding migratory routes and may support research in collaboration with other operators.

Any discharges would be treated in accordance with the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines and/or other relevant regulations and guidelines, as applicable, and the proponent would follow the Statement of Canadian Practice with Respect to the Mitigation of Geophysical Sound in the Marine Environment during geophysical surveys.

Taking into account the mitigation measures, the proponent predicted that the residual effects of the Project on fish, including Atlantic Salmon, would be negligible to low in magnitude and would not likely be significant.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to potential presence of Atlantic Salmon in the project area and their migratory routes and behaviours. The Agency also considered additional information which was supplied by Indigenous groups, and which was given to the proponent to consider. This information has been incorporated into the Agency's analysis. DFO reviewed applicable information and confirmed that there is uncertainty regarding the at-sea migration patterns and habitat use of this species. It advised that it is possible that some salmon overwinter in the Jeanne d'Arc Basin/Flemish Pass region and that salmon are likely to be present at some times of the year as they migrate through to and from home rivers but this is not known to be a significant migration route or overwintering area.

The Agency acknowledges the proponent's commitments to pursuing ongoing research related to Atlantic Salmon migration and behaviour at sea.

The Agency is of the view that a complete ban on activities between January and August would be impractical and unnecessary. DFO has advised that potential effects of the Project on Atlantic Salmon are expected to be negligible to low and spatially and temporally limited.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures and proposed EA conditions for fish and fish habitat and marine mammals and sea turtles, which would mitigate effects on Atlantic Salmon. These are described in Sections 6.1.3, 6.2.3 and Appendix A, and include selecting chemicals to be used in accordance with the Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines and ensuring that all discharges from a drilling installation meet the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines.

Elsipogtog First Nation

KMKNO

MFN

Première Nation de Nutashkuan

WNNB

Woodstock First Nation

Atlantic Salmon - follow-up and monitoring

Given the lack of data on Atlantic Salmon in the project area and their migration, as well as uncertainty with respect to impact predictions, it is recommended that follow-up monitoring for the potential presence of Atlantic Salmon in the project area be implemented.

The proponent should provide funding for tracking studies of Atlantic Salmon (e.g., using satellite pop-up tags) to be completed before any exploration activities take place. Installation of acoustic receivers on the drilling installations should be considered. Potential research collaborations should consider that key concerns and research priorities would differ amongst Indigenous communities.

Given the proposed work by the Atlantic Salmon Federation, it would be prudent to maximize resources and efforts and collaborate with them to collect biological samples (e.g., Atlantic salmon scales and fin tissue, phytoplankton, zooplankton) from all their tagged individuals/sampling locations to build upon the previous work of Soto et al. (2018) to better understand feeding and resource use. This information cannot be provided by telemetry studies.

The proponent acknowledged that there are data gaps regarding Atlantic Salmon migration. The proponent provides funding to the ESRF, in collaboration with other operators, and the data gap related to the migratory routes of Atlantic Salmon has already been presented to the ESRF as a new research priority. Equinor has purchased and provided the Atlantic Salmon Federation with 18 salmon tags to use in their salmon tagging program in Greenland. The proponent also noted that Husky Energy has placed Acoustic receivers for tagged salmon on its SeaRose production facility on the Grand Banks.

The proponent stated that the Atlantic Salmon Federation is conducting a salmon tagging program of kelt in Greenland. The purpose of the tagging is to provide additional information regarding the migratory routes of adult salmon from Greenland to the coastal waters of Canada. The data from the Atlantic Salmon Federation program will add to the migration dataset and the results will become available on their website.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to the potential presence of Atlantic Salmon in the project area and their migratory routes and behaviours. This information has been incorporated into its analysis.

The Agency notes that, to address knowledge gaps regarding Atlantic Salmon migration identified during this and other EAs of exploration projects in offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, in May 2019 the ESRF issued a call for proposals for environmental and social studies related to Atlantic Salmon.

Elsipogtog First Nation

Innu Nation

MFN

Millbrook First Nation

MTI

NunatuKavut Community Council

Qalipu First Nation

Atlantic Salmon - Indigenous Knowledge Indigenous knowledge about Atlantic Salmon populations has not been factored into management planning and EAs. The proponent engaged Indigenous groups over the course of the EA through face-to-face meetings, phone calls, emails and reports. In April 2018, the proponent participated in workshops organized by the Agency with Indigenous groups. Proponents organized additional workshops in October 2018 to solicit discussion and feedback on offshore exploration drilling projects from Indigenous groups. The proponent considered Indigenous knowledge and updated data and analysis on population declines of Atlantic Salmon. The proponent stated that it would continue its engagement efforts throughout the life of the Project.

The Agency required the proponent to provide additional information and analysis on the effects of the Project on Atlantic Salmon, including considering additional references, submissions and other information from Indigenous groups and the dialogue that occurred at engagement meetings and workshops with these groups. This information has been incorporated into the Agency's analysis.

The Agency notes that, to address knowledge gaps regarding Atlantic Salmon migration identified during this and other EAs of exploration projects in offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, in May 2019 the ESRF issued a call for proposals for environmental and social studies related to Atlantic Salmon.

The Agency also considered Indigenous Knowledge presented in its analysis.

KMKNO

MFN

Primary and secondary productivity of marine ecosystems Concern related to potential effects of the Project on primary and secondary productivity of marine ecosystems, including on zooplankton and forage fish such as capelin. The proponent should provide additional information on these effects and how they may affect marine ecosystems and food sources.

The proponent considered the effects of the Project on zooplankton and forage fish such as capelin. It provided additional information regarding these effects in response to concerns raised by Indigenous groups. This information has been incorporated into its analysis.

The proponent predicted that there may be adverse effects on fish and fish habitat, including primary and secondary producers such as zooplankton and capelin but that with the implementation of mitigation measures, routine project effects would be low magnitude, short- to long-term, localized within the project area and reversible and project effects from accidental events would be negligible to high magnitude, short- to long-term, within the regional study area and reversible. The proponent predicted the residual environmental effects on fish and fish habitat would not be significant.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to the potential effects of the Project on primary and secondary productivity of water bodies, including on zooplankton and forage fish such as capelin. This information has been incorporated into its analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures and proposed EA conditions related to fish and fish habitat. These are described in Section 6.1.3 and Appendix A and include selecting chemicals to be used in accordance with the Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines, transporting spent or excess synthetic-based mud that cannot be re-used during drilling operations to shore for disposal at an approved facility, and ensuring that all discharges from a drilling installation meet the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines.

KMKNO

MFN

Qalipu First Nation

Effects on corals and sponges

It is unclear how the proponent would avoid or mitigate harm to corals and sponges where they are observed in proximity to a proposed well site.

Recommend pre-drill surveys leading to avoidance as key mitigation. Seabed investigation should be conducted via underwater video system (not via drop camera/video system) at each well site and mooring location and not only in areas where coral gardens or sponge grounds are known or likely to be present.

The proponent proposed to prepare a Seabed Investigation Plan for each proposed well site prior to the start of drilling and submit these plans to DFO and the C-NLOPB for review and approval prior to implementing the seabed investigation. The plan would contain site-specific information, including:

  • · coral and sponge species specific to offshore Newfoundland and Labrador area and information on species that may be present in the planned well site location, if known;
  • · proposed survey methods for hard coral, soft coral and sponges;
  • · proposed survey area(s); and
  • · mapping requirements.

The proponent would then prepare a summary report for review and approval by DFO and the C-NLOPB prior to drilling, which could include:

  • · results of survey(s);
  • · predicted areas of sedimentation by drill cuttings deposition;
  • · predicted areas of sedimentation by bottom contact of subsea equipment;
  • · physical disturbance predicted by bottom contact of subsea equipment;
  • · need and type of mitigation measures based on study conclusions; and
  • · potential requirements for monitoring.

A number of factors would be considered in determining if and what mitigation measures may be required, which include but are not limited to:

  • · area(s) of reef-building coral;
  • · percentage of living reef-building coral;
  • · number of living soft corals per a defined area;
  • · condition (health) of hard and soft corals;
  • · percentage of sponge coverage;
  • · predicted degree of sedimentation; and
  • · predicted degree of bottom contact.

In most circumstances, the standard mitigation measure to avoid or minimize potential effects on sensitive benthic habitat would be relocating the planned well site or other subsea location such as an anchor location away from the identified feature(s) to meet the minimum setback identified in the C-NLOPB guidance.

The seabed investigation would utilize a drop camera / video system to investigate the potential presence of sensitive benthic organisms or habitats in the immediate area of the well site, including the wellhead location and any anchor / transponder locations.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to pre-drill seabed investigation plans. This information has been incorporated into its analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures, follow-up requirements and proposed EA conditions that would require the proponent to prepare a pre-drill seabed investigation for each well site and submit to DFO and the C-NLOPB for review prior to implementing the survey. The survey would include use of a remotely-operated vehicle to collect high-definition visual data to confirm the presence or absence of sensitive environmental features, including aggregations of habitat-forming corals or sponges, around well sites and anchor/mooring locations.

If aggregations of habitat-forming corals, sponges or other environmentally sensitive features are identified, the proponent would be required to relocate the well or redirect cuttings discharges, if technically feasible. No drilling would occur before a decision is made by the C-NLOPB and DFO that mitigation and monitoring are appropriate. If it were determined that it would not be technically feasible to relocate the well or redirect cuttings discharges, the proponent would be required to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the potentially-affected benthic habitat in consultation with DFO prior to drilling to determine the potential for serious harm or alteration of coral and sponge aggregations and related options for mitigation to reduce any identified risk

For the first well on each exploration licence, and for any well where drilling is undertaken in an area determined by pre-drill seabed investigations to be sensitive benthic habitat, the proponent would also be required to conduct follow-up to verify drill waste deposition modelling predictions.

Results of pre-drill seabed investigations and follow-up monitoring would be provided to Indigenous groups and posted online for public access.

MFN

MTI

NunatuKavut Community Council

Routine discharges

Concerned about impacts of routine discharges to the environment.

Recommend that the proponent undertakes follow-up monitoring to detect the accumulation of any contaminants in marine organisms.

Proponent should be required to use least harmful drilling fluid regardless of cost.

The proponent noted that potential effects of drilling wastes and other marine discharges could include chemical toxicity, bioaccumulation, increase in suspended particles and seabed disturbance. To mitigate these potential effects, the proponent would select and screen chemicals in accordance with the Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines and would treat any operational discharge, including drilling fluids, prior to release in accordance with the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines. Information regarding chemical selection and waste management would also be provided to the C-NLOPB for review and approval. Seabed investigation surveys would also be conducted prior to drilling (as described above).The proponent committed to monitoring the implementation of the mitigation measures, including submitting monthly compliance reports to the C-NLOPB, which would include information on volumes of liquid wastes discharged.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to drilling wastes and other marine discharges, including their potential effects on the marine environment. This information has been incorporated into its analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures and proposed EA conditions that would mitigate the effects of drilling wastes and marine discharges on the marine environment. These are described in Section 6.1.3 and Appendix A. The proponent would be required to:

  • · select chemicals in accordance with the Offshore Chemical Selection Guidelines and use lower toxicity drilling muds and biodegradable and environmentally friendly additives within muds and cements where feasible;
  • · ensure that all discharges meet the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines;
  • · transport spent or excess synthetic-based mud that cannot be re-used during drilling operations to shore for disposal at an approved facility; and
  • · ensure that all discharges from supply vessels meet or exceed the standards established in the MARPOL.

The proponent would be required to monitor the concentration of synthetic-based mud on drill cuttings to verify compliance with the performance target specified in the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines.

KMKNO Drill waste dispersion modelling The proponent should verify and validate the drill cuttings dispersion modelling predictions. Such a follow-up program should not, as the proponent proposes, be dependent on specific circumstances. The monitoring program should be conducted via seabed video and/or benthic sampling to determine, among other things, infaunal recolonization rates following drilling.

The proponent proposed follow-up measures to verify its impact predictions and determine the effectiveness of mitigation measure in protecting sensitive benthic habitat, including:

  • · conducting specific follow-up monitoring if drilling is undertaken in an area where the pre-drill seabed investigation and subsequent review by DFO and the C-NLOPB indicates that monitoring is required; and
  • · when a planned well site is located within an identified fisheries closure area.

Follow-up monitoring program design would include post drilling seabed core samples to measure drill cuttings deposition and/or post drilling visual assessment using high-definition images/video.

The need for and feasibility of a follow-up or monitoring program for drill cuttings deposits would be determined in consultation with DFO and the C-NLOPB.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to their pre-drill seabed investigations and the subsequent mitigation and follow-up measures. This information has been incorporated into its analysis.

The Agency identified follow-up requirements to ensure the effectiveness of mitigation measures and to verify the accuracy of predictions of effects on benthic species and habitats. These are described in Section 6.1.3 and Appendix A and include:

  • · providing the results of pre-drill seabed investigations to DFO and the C-NLOPB prior to commencing drilling and to Indigenous groups after each well is suspended and/or abandoned. Results would also be posted online; and
  • · for the first well on each exploration licence and for any well where drilling is undertaken in an area determined by pre-drill seabed investigations to be sensitive benthic habitat, measuring sediment deposition extent and thickness after drilling is complete and prior to departing the location to verify drill cuttings deposition modelling predictions. Results would be provided to Indigenous groups and posted online for public access.
Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles

KMKNO

MFN

Effects of vertical seismic profiling

Concerns related to the effects of vertical seismic profiling surveys on marine mammals and sea turtles. The proponent should implement measures to minimize impacts on marine mammals and sea turtles during vertical seismic profiling. Observers able to identify sensitive or protected species should be posted on watch during surveys.

In addition, given the likely presence of endangered or threatened marine mammal species (and possible presence of Right Whales), the proponent should be required to employ passive acoustic monitoring or equivalent technology before and throughout vertical seismic profiling surveys, during periods of low visibility when observers cannot effectively observe the entire safety zone (e.g., periods of fog, at night).

The proponent committed to follow the Statement of Canadian Practice with Respect to the Mitigation of Geophysical Sound in the Marine Environment during geophysical surveys, which would include:

  • · using a trained Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) to continuously observe a pre-determined zone for 30 minutes prior to the start-up of the vertical seismic profile sound source array. If any marine mammal or sea turtle is observed within the pre-determined zone during this 30 minute monitoring period, the sound source array would not start;
  • · once the pre-determined zone is determined to be cleared of the observed marine mammal or sea turtle, starting the 30 minute monitoring period again. If any marine mammal or sea turtle (not just listed species) is observed within the pre-determined zone while the sound source is in operation, the sound source array would be shut-down; and
  • · ramping up the source array (i.e., gradually increasing geophysical source elements).

The proponent responded that vertical seismic profiling surveys are of short duration and that it would make every effort to not start a vertical seismic profiling survey during periods of limited visibility and therefore is currently not planning to make use of other monitoring measures such as passive acoustic monitoring.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to the potential effects of vertical seismic profiling surveys and associated mitigation measures and incorporated it into its analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures and follow-up requirements and proposed EA conditions that would mitigate the potential effects of vertical seismic profiling on marine mammals and sea turtles. These measures are described in Section6.2.3 (marine mammals and sea turtles) and AppendixA and include:

  • · conducting vertical seismic profiling surveys in accordance with the Statement of Canadian Practice with Respect to the Mitigation of Seismic Sound in the Marine Environment;
  • · implementing cetacean detection technology, such as passive acoustic monitoring, concurrent with visual observations;
  • · shutting down the sound source upon observing or detecting any marine mammal or sea turtle within the 500 metre safety zone;
  • · developing a Marine Mammals and Sea Turtle Monitoring Plan; and
  • · verifying predicted underwater sound levels with field measurements during the first well per exploration licence.

The proponent would be required to provide monitoring and follow-up program results to Indigenous groups and post online for public access.

KMKNO

MFN

Potential effects from noise on whales

Concern related to the potential impacts on whales due to the energy and frequency of noise produced by the Project, including cumulative effects from other projects.

The proponent should conduct follow-up monitoring studies to evaluate the effects of noise on marine wildlife, with results of these shared with Indigenous groups.

The proponent acknowledged that underwater sound from commercial fisheries, non-project vessel traffic and other offshore oil and gas activities could overlap with project-related sound and result in cumulative environmental effects. It stated that the project area represents a very small percentage of the range of marine mammal species and the effects of the Project and other exploratory drilling and related activities were predicted to be transient and temporary. Further, no critical habitat for marine mammal species at risk has been designated in or near the project area. In addition, production and exploration projects have established safety exclusion zones and would not occur in the same area at the same time, reducing the degree of overlap and interaction.

The proponent committed to visual monitoring by trained observers to detect marine mammals and sea turtles within a safety zone during vertical seismic profiling and a ramp up of air guns prior to the start-up of operation of air source arrays to promote temporary avoidance of the area by mobile species.

The proponent would submit an annual report of the marine mammal and sea turtle observational program to the C-NLOPB and DFO, including documentation of marine mammal and sea turtle sightings.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to the potential effects of project-related noise on marine species and associated mitigation measures and incorporated it into its analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures, follow-up requirements and proposed EA conditions that would mitigate the potential effects of sound on marine mammals and sea turtles. These are described in Section6.2.3 and AppendixA and include:

  • · conducting vertical seismic profiling surveys in accordance with the Statement of Canadian Practice with Respect to the Mitigation of Seismic Sound in the Marine Environment;
  • · implementing cetacean detection technology, such as passive acoustic monitoring, concurrent with visual observations;
  • · implementing a ramp up procedure;
  • · shutting down the sound source upon observing or detecting any marine mammal or sea turtle within the 500 metre safety zone;
  • · developing a Marine Mammals and Sea Turtle Monitoring Plan; and
  • · verifying predicted underwater sound levels with field measurements during the first well per exploration licence.

The proponent would be required to provide monitoring and follow-up program results to Indigenous groups and post online for public access.

KMKNO Vessel speeds Project-related vessels should be required to reduce speeds (10-knot limit) when not in existing shipping lanes and/or whenever a marine mammal or sea turtle is observed in the vicinity of the vessel. These speed limits should also be implemented when near a raft of seabirds, and vessels should be required to avoid approaching congregations of marine birds.

The proponent stated that the offshore Newfoundland area does not have prescribed speed limits or shipping lanes. Speed would be set based on environmental conditions (e.g., wind, waves), distances and other shipping traffic, and the proponent would follow operational best practices.

The proponent committed to:

  • · maintain a steady vessel course and vessel speed whenever possible (vessel transit speeds would typically be between 10 to 12 knots and occasionally 13 to 14 knots);
  • · use existing and common vessel and aircraft travel routes for vessels and helicopters where practical; and
  • · report any vessel strikes involving marine mammals or sea turtles to DFO within 24 hours.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent and incorporated it into its analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures and proposed EA conditions that would mitigate the potential effects of vessels on marine mammals, sea turtles, and migratory birds. These are described in Section6.2.3 and AppendixA. The proponent would be required, except during an emergency, to:

  • · limit supply vessels' movement to established shipping lanes where they are available (i.e., in approaches to harbours); and
  • · when and where such speeds do not present a risk to safety of navigation, reduce supply vessel speed to seven knots (13kilometres per hour) when a whale or sea turtle species at risk is observed or reported within 400metres of the vessel.
Migratory Birds

Innu de Ekuanitshit

KMKNO

MTI

Qalipu First Nation

Effects on migratory birds

The Project could have various impacts on marine and migratory birds, including effects from exposure to oil, disruption of migration patterns and behaviour, strandings and effects on habitats.

Among other measures, the proponent should document the presence of hydrocarbons on the surface of the water and any subsequent impacts on seabirds following the drilling work. It is also important to document the presence and abundance of waterfowl species, eiders and Canada Geese in the work area.

If injured avian Species at Risk are stranded on the drilling installation or on a vessel, every effort should be made to transport the bird to a wildlife rescue centre for rehabilitation.

The proponent provided additional information related to the Project's potential effects on migratory birds. The Project has the potential to affect migratory birds through multiple pathways but the proponent predicted that, with the implementation of mitigation measures, these effects would be low in magnitude, localized to within the local study area, reversible and overall not likely to be significant. The proponent committed to the following mitigation and follow-up measures:

  • · conduct routine searches for, and collection and release of, stranded birds on the platform and supply vessels in accordance with appropriate protocols and guidelines;
  • · undertake regular searches of vessel decks and implement accepted protocols for the collection and release of any birds that become stranded and
  • · implement by qualified and experienced personnel a live bird monitoring and observation program in accordance with ECCC's bird handling permit requirements and applicable regulatory guidance and requirements.

Mitigation measures that apply to fish and fish habitat and marine mammals would also apply to migratory and marine birds.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to the potential effects of the Project on migratory birds and incorporated it into its analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures, follow-up requirements and proposed EA conditions related to migratory birds. These are described in Section 6.3.3 and Appendix A and include following appropriate procedures for safe capture and handling of stranded birds, conducting systematic daily monitoring for stranded birds, restricting flaring and conducting monitoring for marine birds from the drilling installation using a trained observer and following ECCC's protocol. The proponent would be required to provide monitoring and follow-up program results to Indigenous groups and post online for public access. Key mitigation measures identified by the Agency to reduce the effects on fish and fish habitat (Section 6.1) and marine mammals and sea turtles (Section .2) would also mitigate potential effects on migratory birds.

KMKNO

MTI

Nunatukavut Community Council

Flaring

The proponent should avoid flaring during periods when birds are more vulnerable (e.g., periods of fog, at night, etc.) and should implement additional mitigation measures to minimize the chance of episodic mass mortality at flares.

Water-curtain barriers should be requirement around the flare during flaring.

The proponent should be required to notify ECCC in advance of planned flaring to determine whether the flaring would occur during a period of migratory bird vulnerability.

If an alternative to flaring is an option through which to capture similar data and the alternative poses less of an impact on the environment, then the alternative must be used.

The proponent committed to notifying the C-NLOPB of plans to flare associated with formation flow testing. The C-NLOPB would then consult with ECCC to determine a safe timeline to reduce effects on migrating birds.

The proponent also stated that water curtains would be deployed during flaring operations that may reduce the risk of injury or death of marine and migratory birds from direct exposure to the flare.

The proponent stated that flaring would be kept to the minimum amount necessary to characterize the hydrocarbon accumulation. Formation flow tests with flaring would be carried out under the Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Drilling and Production Regulations.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to the requirements to flare and the potential effects of flaring on birds. This information has been incorporated into the Agency's analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures, which are described in Section 6.3.3 and Appendix A, and proposed EA conditions including the requirement for the proponent to:

  • · restrict flaring to the minimum required to characterize a well's hydrocarbon potential and as necessary for the safety of the operation;
  • · use a drill pipe conveyed test assembly where acceptable to the C-NLOPB;
  • · if formation testing with flaring is required, notify the C-NLOPB at least 30 days in advance of planned flaring to determine if flaring would occur during periods of migratory bird vulnerability (in consultation with ECCC) and to identify how to avoid adverse effects; and
  • · operate a water-curtain barrier around the flare during flaring.
MTI Helicopter traffic Concern regarding potential effects of helicopter traffic on birds. The proponent should adhere to the minimum altitude and distance for helicopter flight to minimize disturbance to birds (e.g., altitude greater than 300 metres and lateral distance of greater than 2 kilometres from any active bird colony).

The proponent indicated that flights would use existing and established routes wherever possible. Known and observed bird colonies, large aggregations of avifauna, protected or sensitive areas and times would also be avoided wherever possible. Helicopter operations would avoid coastal seabird colonies during the nesting season as per the Seabird Ecological Reserve Regulations, 2015 (i.e., by not taking off or landing in, and by flying at an altitude greater than 300 metres over seabird ecological reserves during sensitive times of year to avoid disturbance).

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to helicopter operations and incorporated it into its analysis.

The Agency has identified the following mitigation measure to mitigate effects of helicopters on bird colonies:

· restrict helicopter flying altitude to a minimum altitude of 300 metres (except during take-off and landing) from active bird colonies and to a lateral distance of 1000metres from Cape St. Francis and Witless Bay Islands Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (unless there is an emergency situation).

KMKNO

MTI

Nunatukavut Community Council

Migratory birds - mitigation and monitoring

The proponent should consider additional mitigation measures to minimize the attraction of birds to project infrastructure (e.g., light colour, intensity, amount, timing, etc.) and to deter birds from nesting on structures.

The proponent should implement monitoring and should consider the use of acoustic and/or camera based monitoring to document bird sightings and interactions with the drilling installation and project vessels. The proponent should provide quantifiable targets (e.g., number of bird standings/deaths) which would be used to determine the effectiveness of mitigation measures and to serve as adaptive management thresholds.

The proponent stated that the use of artificial lighting will be minimized to the greatest extent possible and is expecting to contract its MODU and other support vessels and aircraft from suppliers that have operated in the region. The contractors and their equipment would be selected based on safety considerations and technical capabilities. Safety would be the primary consideration in determining the nature and amount of lighting utilized. Lighting is task specific by design and where safe and technically feasible some amount of reduced lighting may be considered.

The proponent committed to implementing a bird monitoring and observation program that would include having a trained observer onboard to record marine bird sightings during operations. A report of the seabird monitoring program, together with any recommended changes, would be submitted to the C-NLOPB and Canadian Wildlife Services on a yearly basis.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to mitigation measures and monitoring of effects of the Project on migratory birds. This information has been incorporated it into the Agency's analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures, follow-up requirements and proposed EA conditions related to migratory birds. These are described in Section 6.3.3 and Appendix A. Key mitigation measures include following appropriate procedures for safe capture and handling of stranded birds and restricting flaring. The proponent would also be require to implement a follow-up program, which would include systemic daily monitoring for stranded birds, and monitoring for marine birds from the drilling installation. The proponent would be required to document and report the results of any monitoring carried out, including a discussion of whether mitigation measures were proven effective and if additional measures may be required and provide the monitoring and follow-up results to Indigenous groups.

Special Areas
KMKNO Impacts on special areas

Concern related to potential effects of the Project on special areas.

To minimize potential impacts to sensitive benthic habitats and areas of high ecological or biological activity and significance, the location of special areas and predicted drill cuttings dispersion should be factored into well site selection.

The proponent proposed mitigation measures related to fish and fish habitat (e.g., pre-drill seabed investigations), marine mammals and sea turtles, and migratory birds that would also mitigate potential effects on special areas.

The proponent proposed to conduct follow-up in relation to special areas if drilling were undertaken:

  • · within an identified fisheries closure area; and
  • · where the results of the pre-drill seabed investigation and subsequent review by DFO and the C-NLOPB indicate that monitoring is required.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent regarding potential effects of the Project on special areas. This information has been incorporated into its analysis.

The Agency is of the view that key mitigation measures proposed for other valued components, including fish and fish habitat, marine mammals and sea turtles, and migratory birds, would mitigate potential effects on special areas. The Agency has identified a potential EA condition that would require the proponent to conduct follow-up monitoring when drilling in special areas, or adjacent to or near a special area, such that drill cuttings dispersion modelling predicts that cuttings deposition could occur within the special area at level above the biological effects threshold. Monitoring would include:

  • · measuring sediment deposition extent and thickness after drilling is complete and prior to departing the location to verify drill cuttings deposition modelling predictions;
  • · survey of benthic fauna present after drilling has been concluded; and
  • · reporting of results, including a comparison of modelling results to in situ results, to the C-NLOPB and DFO.

The proponent would be required to provide monitoring and follow-up program results to Indigenous groups and post online for public access.

NunatuKavut Community Council Shipping routes and special areas The proponent should consider avoiding special areas and other potentially sensitive areas with supply vessels and plan routes to avoid these areas. The proponent committed to use existing and common vessel travel routes for vessels where practical and will seek to maintain a steady course and vessel speed.

The Agency identified key mitigation measures and proposed EA conditions that would mitigate the potential effects of vessel traffic, including potential effects on special areas. These are described in Section6.2.3, 6.4.3 and AppendixA. The proponent would be required to, except during an emergency:

  • · limit supply vessels movement to established shipping lanes where they are available (i.e., in approaches to harbours); and
  • · ensure supply and other support vessels maintain a 300-metre buffer from Cape St. Francis and Witless Bay Islands Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (unless there is an emergency situation).
Commercial Fisheries

Innu Nation

KMKNO

MFN

Millbrook First Nation

MMS

MTI

NunatuKavut Community Council

Qalipu First Nation

Effects on commercial fisheries and communication with fishers

Concern related to potential impacts on commercial fisheries, including shrimp fishery.

Indigenous groups requested the proponent develop a communication plan to inform fishers and to facilitate dialogue related to any project issues affecting the commercial fishery. The proponent should be required to accommodate any impacts to commercial fishery operations resulting from the Project, including from an accident or malfunction.

As a follow-up program, the proponent should ensure that issues and concerns can be raised by Indigenous groups throughout the Project's life and fishers should be provided with monthly updates (at a minimum).

The proponent predicted that, with the implementation of mitigation measures, the adverse environmental effects of routine project activities on commercial fisheries, including the shrimp fishery, would be negligible to low in magnitude, localized, short-term and reversible to irreversible (for well abandonment or suspension). The proponent predicted residual environmental effects of the Project on commercial fisheries would not be significant.

The proponent committed to communicate on an ongoing basis with commercial fishers throughout the Project. The proponent will provide an annual update of planned activities to fishers and fish processors that will include timing of exploration activities and locations of planned wells.

The proponent also committed to continued engagement with Indigenous groups and to develop an Indigenous Communities Fisheries Communication Plan. It will share its plans for monitoring and follow-up programs including communication related to the unlikely occurrence of accidents and malfunctions, with Indigenous groups in upcoming and ongoing engagement for disucsssion and input.

CNOOC intends that the plan will be designed to be responsive throughout the life of the Project and believes it is important that the plan contain a mechanism that ensures adaptive management measures can be taken if required. During drilling operations, CNOOC proposes providing Indigenous groups with quarterly updates regarding Project activities.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent and identified measures to mitigate effects on fishery resources and fishing activity. These are described in Section 6.6.3 and Appendix A.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures, including:

  • · implement a Fisheries Communication Plan, including a procedure for determining the need for a Fisheries Liaison Officer and/or fisheries guide vessels during drilling installation movement.
  • · These measures would be developed in consultation with Indigenous groups and commercial fishers.

In addition, in all cases where spills, debris or other project-related activities cause damage to fishers, the C-NLOPB would expect the proponent to consider claims in a manner that meets the requirements of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and the spirit of the Compensation Guidelines Respecting Damages Related to Offshore Petroleum Activity, and to act in good faith to resolve claims from fishers. If the proponent and a fisher were unable to resolve such a claim, the fisher could seek relief through a compensation claim to the C-NLOPB [if applicable] or through the court.

Nunatsiavut Government

NunatuKavut Community Council

Qalipu First Nation

Sipekne'katik First Nation

Effects of drilling wastes on commercial fisheries Concern that drilling fluids, cuttings and accidental events may adversely affect breeding and/or feeding grounds of numerous marine species, which could result in impacts to commercial and food, social and ceremonial fisheries.

The proponent noted that due to the relatively non-toxic nature of water-based mud components, toxic effects to fish and benthic invertebrates would not be expected, and that synthetic-based mud cuttings and mud would be returned to the drilling installation for treatment before discharge.

With proposed mitigations and the very localized nature and extent of the planned activities, the proponent does not expect a change in market perceptions of the quality of fish harvested near drilling locations and therefore, no expectation of any effect on price paid to harvesters as a result.

The proponent stated that residual effects on fisheries because of drilling associated discharges are predicted to be negligible in magnitude, localized and within the project area, short to medium-term in duration and reversible.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent and incorporated it into its analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures and proposed EA conditions related to marine species. These are described in Section 6.1.3, 6.2.3, 6.3.3 and Appendix A. Key mitigation measures include ensuring that all discharges from the mobile offshore drilling unit meet the Offshore Waste Treatment Guidelines. The Agency has also identified key mitigation measures and proposed EA conditions related to accidents and malfunctions. These are described in Section 7.1 and Appendix A.

KMKNO

MMS

Sipekne'katik First Nation

Nunatsiavut

Compensation

Indigenous fishers should be compensated for any impeded access to fishing activity and for damaged or lost fishing gear.

Furthermore, in the event of a spill, the proponent must compensate for any loss of productivity of species harvested by Indigenous communities.

Commit to involving Indigenous communities in the development of the compensation program. If consultation is not required, confirm if there is another means by which the Indigenous community can be involved, including a Fishery Compensation Plan.

The proponent committed to two types of compensation programs:

1. Gear Damage or Loss Compensation Program

This Program is intended to apply primarily to losses resulting from damage to physical fishing assets that might occur during planned and routine operations and is not intended to address a major accidental event such as an oil spill that might affect nearshore areas. The Program would pertain mainly to fishing activities that occur within the offshore project area and near routes that Project-associated vessels take to transit between the project area and shore. The proponent would prepare a draft plan of the Program and would provide Indigenous groups with opportunities to review and provide comments on the planned Program before it is finalized

The proponent would not intend to exclude harvesting equipment used by rights holders and any fishing gear, boats or other related equipment used within Indigenous food, social, ceremonial, moderate livelihood, as well as communal commercial fisheries affected by such occurrences, would be compensable under its terms.

2. Operator Compensation Program

The proponent would develop and implement a compensation program for any economic damages suffered by fish harvesters caused by any unauthorized discharge, emission or escape of petroleum or the escape of debris. This program would serve as a means of mitigation for any residual economic effects on the fisheries that could not be prevented or fully mitigated by other measures.

The loss to Indigenous groups of opportunities to hunt or fish, as well as loss of income, would be considered in the Program's development. To accomplish this, the proponent would consider differences between stakeholders and rights holders.

The proponent would prepare a draft plan of the Operator Compensation Program and provide Indigenous groups with opportunities to review and provide comments on the planned Program before it is finalized.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent and identified measures to mitigate effects on fishery resources and fishing activity. These are described in Appendix A and Section 6.6.3 and include measures such as implementing a Fisheries Communication Plan.

In addition, in all cases where spills, debris or other project-related activities cause damage to fishers, the C-NLOPB would expect the proponent to consider claims in a manner that meets the requirements of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and the spirit of the Compensation Guidelines Respecting Damages Related to Offshore Petroleum Activity, and to act in good faith to resolve claims from fishers. If the proponent and a fisher were unable to resolve such a claim, the fisher could seek relief through a compensation claim to the C-NLOPB [if applicable] or through the court.

Current Use of Lands and Resources for Traditional Purposes and Potential Impacts on Aboriginal Rights

Innu de Ekuanitshit

KMKNO

MTI

MFN

NunatuKavut Community Council

Première Nation de Nutashkuan

Indigenous knowledge and effects assessment

Indigenous knowledge must be applied in conducting EAs to accurately determine the impacts to Aboriginal rights and to assist in the development of mitigation and monitoring. Indigenous knowledge can also contribute to providing an ecosystem perspective in EAs and follow-up.

More specifically, and in relation to this EA in particular, the proponent should explain the rationale for not undertaking specific studies on current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes, particularly given that Indigenous harvesting activities in the vicinity of shorelines could be impacted by an oil spill.

The proponent engaged Indigenous groups over the course of the EA through face-to-face meetings, phone calls, emails and reports. It also coordinated a two-day workshop for interested communities to discuss the Project, including potential impacts and mitigation measures, and participated in workshops organized by the Agency with Indigenous groups.

Regarding potential impacts to shorelines or nearshore environments, the proponent predicted that the probability of spilled oil making contact with shorelines would be low and if it did, only small portions of the released oil would actually reach shorelines (and the oil would likely be weathered, patchy and discontinuous. As a result, only a small portion of species and habitats would likely be affected and there would be little or no potential for biophysical effects to translate into any detectable decrease in the overall nature, intensity, distribution, quality or cultural value of traditional activities by Indigenous communities.

The Agency directed the proponent to engage Indigenous communities in the preparation of the EIS and consider Indigenous knowledge in the analysis.

The Agency has considered comments received from Indigenous groups following their reviews of the EIS and asked the proponent to provide additional information on a number of topics. Indigenous groups were provided an opportunity to review and comment on the additional information, as applicable. The Agency also consulted Indigenous groups through phone calls, emails, letters and in-person meetings. For example, the Agency organized four information sessions with Indigenous groups in October 2017, in which the proponent also participated.

The Agency received a copy of the Indigenous Knowledge Study completed by MTI and considered the information presented in its analysis.

Elsipogtog First Nation

Effects on resources and harvesting within traditional territories

Request that Elsipogtog First Nation play a central role in the assessment of and decision-making respecting any development that has potential to impact fish, fish habitat, fisheries and management within their territory, including the Project. The proponent engaged Elsipogtog First Nation in the development of its EIS and the proponent remains committed to continuing to engage with Indigenous groups. The proponent would develop, in consultation with Indigenous groups, an Indigenous Communities Fisheries Communication Plan and has committed to timely communication. Over the life of the Project, engagement opportunities would continue through, among other things, project updates, safety and public awareness presentations, community events, regulatory processes and ongoing informal meetings with Indigenous groups. This would include updates to Indigenous groups about planned activities given potential for changes in operations. During drilling operations, the proponent proposed providing Indigenous groups with quarterly updates regarding project activities.

The Agency integrated consultation and engagement activities with Elsipogtog First Nation into the EA. Elsipogtog First Nation was given the opportunity to review and submit comments on various documents and was also consulted through other methods, including phone calls, emails, letters and in-person meetings. Elsipogtog First Nation's input has been considered and incorporated into the Agency's analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures which would ensure Elsipogtog First Nation continues to be appropriately involved, including through participation in the development of the Fisheries Communications Plan and Oil Spill Response Plan.

Accidents and Malfunctions

Innu Nation

KMKNO

MFN

Millbrook First Nation

NunatuKavut Community Council

Qalipu First Nation

Capping stack location and response times, use in deep water

Concerned about the amount of time required to mobilize and deploy a capping stack. Recommend a capping stack be located and maintained in the Atlantic region. Alternative transportation options, such as transporting the capping stack by air, should also be considered.

Concern about the proposed use of a capping stack in deep water.

The proponent stated that while a capping stack system in eastern Canada or on a vessel could result in quick mobilization, the ability to modify the equipment for the specific incident would be limited and other activities would still be in progress prior to installation, including debris removal. Existing capping stack facilities are set up such that the equipment can be quickly modified and prepared for shipment based on the specific requirements of an incident. It is unlikely that having a capping stack system in eastern Canada would reduce the overall time to install a capping stack. The proponent also considered transporting the capping stack by air but stated that this may result in increased logistics associated with air travel could result in longer mobilization times. The proponent stated that their preferred mobilization method would be by vessel and would use air transport for its contingency capping stack.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to capping stack locations and response times. This information was incorporated it into its analysis. The Agency relied on the C-NLOPB's expertise and advice in reviewing the proponent's analyses and proposed approach to spill response, including the proposed approach to capping stack mobilization and deployment, and the Agency notes that the C-NLOPB was satisfied with the information presented by the proponent.

The Agency notes that the C-NLOPB's authorization of drilling activities is contingent on its confidence that the proponent have a satisfactory approach to risk management. The proponent would also be required to demonstrate their preparedness to appropriately respond in the event of an accident or malfunction, including preparation of detailed spill response plan and well capping and containment plan, which would include discussion of any potential options to reduce overall response timelines.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures that would ensure the proponent fulfil these commitments (refer to Section 7.1.3 and Appendix A), which include the requirement to prepare Spill Response Plan and well capping and containment plans, which would be submitted to the C-NLOPB for acceptance prior to drilling, and would establish well control strategies and measures, including the capping of a blowout.

KMKNO Emergency response plan training and implementation The proponent must take all reasonable measures to reduce the probability of an accidental event and ensure they are prepared to respond effectively if an event does occur. In addition to directed training and response exercises around emergency preparedness, experts should be engaged, prior to drilling program initiation, to provide training specific to operating in harsh weather environments (including specialized training for technical experts, decision-making factors and processes, and roles and responsibilities). The proponent has a hazard identification and risk assessment process to identify hazards and potential incidents, develop preventative barriers and recovery measures, identify the necessary training and conduct response exercises to mitigate potential risk. The proponent also uses an emergency response management system with highly trained specialists and resources ready at all levels. The Project would employ a tiered system to categorize and respond to any type of incident (e.g., tier 1 response is within the capability of on-site resources, tier 2 is within the capability of regional resources and tier 3 requires both national and international resources). Determining the appropriate tiered response level and method for response to an incident will be dependent upon several factors including, but not limited to, the type of incident, location, size or volume of spill, time of year, weather, sea state and resource availability.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent and incorporated it into its analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures, follow-up programs and proposed EA conditions for accidents and malfunctions. These are described in Section7.1.3 and AppendixA. Key mitigation measures include preparing a Spill Response Plan, undertaking a spill impact mitigation assessment and undertaking all reasonable measures to prevent accidents and malfunctions and to effectively implement emergency response procedures and contingencies developed for the Project. The C-NLOPB has also advised the Agency that its authorization of drilling activities is contingent on its confidence that the proponent would be able to appropriately respond in the event of an accident or malfunction.

In addition, the proponent would be required to, in in consultation with the C-NLOPB, establish and enforce practices and limits for operating in all conditions that may be reasonably expected, including poor weather, high sea state, or sea ice or iceberg conditions.

KMKNO

MFN

MMS

MTI

Nunatsiavut Government

Indigenous involvement in emergency response planning

Indigenous groups should be involved in the development and implementation of the Oil Spill Response Plans and other emergency response and contingency plans, including emergency response and preparedness planning, exercises and training.

The proponent should ensure that information about accidental events would be shared with Indigenous groups, including consultation in relation to the findings of the dispersion modelling and to the scope of emergency preparedness and response planning.

The proponent committed to sharing its final oil spill response plans with Indigenous groups for discussion and will consider input from these groups. The proponent will continue to engage with Indigenous communities throughout the life of the Project and will explore opportunities to provide education in oil spill response with interested Indigenous groups. This may take the form of training, workshops or exercises to more fully integrate these communities into the proponent's program.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent on the details of the spill response plans and strategies and incorporated this information into its analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures, follow-up programs and proposed EA conditions for accidents and malfunctions. These are described in Section7.1.3 and AppendixA, and include the following:

· involve Indigenous groups in the development of the Oil Spill Response Plan and provide the approved versions to Indigenous groups;

· include procedures to communicate with fishers in the event of an accident or malfunction in the Fisheries Communications Plan; and

· develop procedures to communicate monitoring results to Indigenous groups.

Innu de Ekuanitshit

KMKNO

MTI

NunatuKavut Community Council

Potential shoreline impacts Concern related to discharges and spills reaching shore and any resulting potential impacts to commercial or food, social and ceremonial fisheries. Regarding potential impacts to shorelines or nearshore environments, the proponent predicted that the probability of spilled oil making contact with shorelines would be low, and if it did, only small portions of the released oil would actually reach shorelines (and the oil would likely be weathered, patchy and discontinuous. As a result, only a small portion of species and habitats would likely be affected, and there would be little or no potential for biophysical effects to translate into any detectable decrease in the overall nature, intensity, distribution, quality or cultural value of traditional activities by Indigenous communities.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to the potential for a spill to reach shorelines and the potential effects of a spill on shorelines and nearshore environments (Section7.1).

The Agency notes that the probability of oil making contact with shorelines is relatively low. Mitigation measures proposed for accidents and malfunctions and commercial fishing (e.g., development of the Fisheries Communication Plan and compensation for any damages, including loss of food, social and ceremonial fisheries), would also mitigate potential effects on Indigenous commercial and food, social and ceremonial fisheries.

Innu de Ekuanitshit

KMKNO

MMS

MTI

Première Nation de Nutashkuan

Sipekne'katik First Nation

NunatuKavut Community Council

Impact of a spill on species of importance to Indigenous groups Concern regarding the potential effects of an accidental event or malfunction on species of importance to Indigenous communities (e.g., Atlantic Salmon, Bluefin Tuna, swordfish).

The proponent provided additional information about potential effects of a spill, including on species of importance to Indigenous groups such as Atlantic Salmon, swordfish and Bluefin Tuna.

With regard to Atlantic Salmon, modelled blowout scenarios predicted that the majority of affected areas would experience total hydrocarbon concentrations below levels shown to have behavioural or toxic effects on salmon. Waters with potential higher concentrations would likely be located towards the bottom of the water column and salmon are likely to avoid such concentrations.

With regard to Bluefin Tuna and swordfish, the proponent recognized that exposure to certain hydrocarbons has been shown to affect fish, including eggs, larvae and juveniles. Due to the distance of the Project from tuna and swordfish spawning areas, Atlantic Bluefin Tuna and swordfish would not likely interact with spilled oil in their early life stages. Foraging adult Bluefin Tuna and swordfish would be most likely to come in contact with spilled oil; however, they have wide distributions and high migratory capabilities and would likely have limited interactions with a spill.

The proponent committed to a variety of measures to prevent and respond to accidents and malfunctions (Section 16.1). The proponent predicted that, with appropriate mitigation, any residual effects of an accident or malfunction on fish, including Atlantic Salmon, would not likely result in a detectable decline in overall abundance, nor a change in the spatial and temporal distribution of fish populations in the regional study area. The proponent also stated that any biophysical effects from a spill would not likely translate into any detectable decrease in the overall nature, intensity, distribution, quality or cultural value of traditional activities by Indigenous communities.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent regarding a spill's potential effects on various species, including Atlantic Salmon and Bluefin Tuna.

The Agency notes that the C-NLOPB's authorization of drilling activities is contingent on its confidence that the proponent have a satisfactory approach to risk management. The proponent would also be required to demonstrate their preparedness to appropriately respond in the event of an accident or malfunction, including preparation of detailed spill response plans that meet the C-NLOPB's regulatory standards.

Nonetheless, in taking a precautionary approach and also in considering the potential presence of species at risk, the Agency concludes that the potential effects of a worst-case accident or malfunction (i.e., unmitigated subsea blowout) on fish and fish habitat and marine mammals and sea turtles could be significant. By extension, and particularly considering potential effects on endangered or threatened populations of Atlantic Salmon and their recovery, as well as the context provided by Indigenous groups, the Agency has concluded that the potential effects of a worst-case accident or malfunction on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and the health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples could be significant. The Agency also recognizes that the probability of occurrence for a major event is very low and thus these effects are unlikely to occur. On this basis, the Agency concludes that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects as a result of accidents and malfunctions.

Innu de Ekuanitshit

KMKNO

MMS

NunatuKavut Community Council

Potential contamination of resources and effects on current use and socioeconomic conditions and wellbeing of Indigenous communities

Concerns related to potential contamination of harvested species, including perceived contamination which could influence dietary changes if country foods were avoided.

The potential psychosocial impacts of an oil spill should be assessed and the emergency response plan should include engagement with Indigenous groups and mitigation for the psychosocial stresses that may arise from a spill or blowout.

The proponent stated that: the probability of a blowout would be very low; released oil would likely move eastward; and response measures would likely reduce the duration and extent of the spill. The probability of contamination of resources harvested by Indigenous communities would be very low and an assessment of effects on the health of Indigenous peoples was not required.

The proponent committed to sharing its final oil spill response plans with Indigenous groups for discussion and stated that it would consider input from those groups. The proponent also stated that it would continue to engage with Indigenous communities throughout the life of the Project and would explore opportunities to provide education in oil spill response with interested Indigenous groups. This could take the form of training, workshops or exercises.

The proponent would develop and implement a compensation program for any economic damages suffered by fish harvesters caused by any unauthorized discharge, emission or escape of petroleum or the escape of debris. This program would serve as a means of mitigation for any residual economic effects on the fisheries that could not be prevented or fully mitigated by other measures.

The loss to Indigenous groups of opportunities to hunt or fish, as well as loss of income, would be considered in the Program's development.

In response to this concern, the Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to the Project's potential effects on current use and health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples, particularly in the even of a blowout (Sections6.7 and 7.1).

The Agency acknowledges that current use and health and socioeconomic conditions in Indigenous communities could be affected if project-related changes in the marine environment occur as a result of an accidental event or malfunction (e.g., cause decreased catch rates or a decrease in fish quality for human consumption).

The Agency considers that mitigation measures identified for fish and fish habitat, accidents and malfunctions, commercial fishing (e.g., development of the Fisheries Communication Plan and compensation for any damages, including loss of food, social and ceremonial fisheries), would also mitigate potential effects on the current use and health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples.

Nonetheless, in taking a precautionary approach and also in considering the potential presence of species at risk, the Agency concludes that the potential effects of a worst-case accident or malfunction (i.e., unmitigated subsea blowout) on fish and fish habitat and marine mammals and sea turtles could be significant. By extension and particularly considering potential effects on endangered or threatened populations of Atlantic Salmon and their recovery, as well as the context provided by Indigenous groups, the Agency has concluded that the potential effects of a worst-case accident or malfunction on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and the health and socioeconomic conditions of Indigenous peoples could be significant. The Agency also recognizes that the probability of occurrence for a major event is very low and thus these effects are unlikely to occur. On this basis, the Agency concludes that the Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects as a result of accidents and malfunctions.

Innu Nation

KMKNO

MFN

Millbrook First Nation

MMS

NunatuKavut Community Council

Qalipu First Nation

Effects of dispersants

Concern related to the potential effects of dispersants on fish.

Request clarification on the differences between and the potential effects of subsea versus surface dispersant injection.

Request that a net environmental benefit analysis be undertaken to help guide the development of the response methods and plans, including determining if dispersants should be used. Given that scientific understanding of dispersants and their effects on the environment is evolving, the analysis should reference, evaluate and integrate the most recently-available information and literature. The proponent should explore potential for Indigenous involvement in this process.

The proponent provided information on dispersant application methods and on the potential benefits and drawbacks of their use.

Compared to surface application, subsea dispersant injection generally results in lower concentrations of dispersed oil, reduces the amount of oil coming to the surface and reduces surface water, nearshore and shoreline exposure to floating oil and dissolved oil in the upper water column.

As part of the C-NLOPB's approval process, the proponent would undertake a spill impact mitigation assessment (also known as a net environmental benefit analysis), which would evaluate benefits and risks of different response measures. Considering whether to use dispersants would be a key component of the spill impact mitigation assessment.

Indigenous groups could be consulted during the drafting of the spill impact mitigation assessment report to see additional comment.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent on dispersants, including application methods and potential benefits and drawbacks. The Agency relied on the C-NLOPB's advice and input in reviewing this information, and this information has be incorporated into its analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigations and proposed EA conditions for accidents and malfunctions. These are described in Section 7.1.3 and Appendix A. Key mitigation measures include undertaking a spill impact mitigation assessment to consider all realistic and achievable spill response options and identify those techniques (including the possible use of dispersants) that would provide for the best opportunities to minimize environmental consequences and provide it to the C-NLOPB for review. Relevant federal government departments would provide advice to the C-NLOPB on the spill impact mitigation assessment through the ECCC Environmental Emergency Science Table. The spill impact mitigation assessment would be published on the internet for the information of Indigenous groups and the public.

KMKNO Vessel routes and collision risks

Concern regarding the potential for collisions between supply vessels and fishing vessels and other ocean users. The proponent should provide more detail to better understand the level of collision risk.

To minimize the potential for interference with commercial fisheries, project vessel transit routes should be required to link up with existing and common traffic routes at the earliest practicable opportunity, even where this may result in moderately decreased efficiency.

The proponent should clearly define speed limits applicable in different routes scenarios, supported by a map to the best of their knowledge.

The proponent considered the risk of vessel collisions. It stated that the possibility of a vessel-on-vessel collision would be considered a high consequence but low frequency event. Vessel traffic would be subject to various safeguards and contingencies (e.g., highly trained/competent personnel, safety meetings, inspections of equipment) and would be subject to applicable regulatory requirements (e.g., Canada Shipping Act, Collision Regulations).

The proponent stated that the offshore Newfoundland area does not have prescribed speed limits or shipping lanes. Speed would be set based on environmental conditions (e.g., wind, waves), distances, destination and other shipping traffic, and the proponent would follow operational best practices. The vessels would transit in a straight-line approach to and from the port of St. John's to the drilling installations. Vessel transits are typically completed at speeds of between 10-12 knots and occasionally at best possible speed of 13-14 knots.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to vessel traffic and the risks and potential effects of a collision. The Agency relied on advice and input from the C-NLOPB, Transport Canada and other federal authorities to review and determine the accuracy and reasonableness of the proponent's information and analyses. This information has been incorporated into the Agency's analysis.

The Agency has identified key mitigations and proposed EA conditions that would address the risk and potential effects associated with a vessel collision. These are described in Section 6.2.3, Section 7.1.3 and Appendix A. Key mitigation measures include:

· prepare a plan for avoidance of collisions with vessels and other hazards and submit to the C-NLOPB for acceptance prior to drilling;

· limit supply vessels movement to established shipping lanes where they are available (i.e., in approaches to harbours); and

· when and where such speeds do not present a risk to safety of navigation, reduce supply vessel speed to seven knots (13 kilometres per hour) when a whale or sea turtle is observed or reported within 400 metres of the vessel.

Cumulative Effects

MTI

Nunatsiavut Government

Atlantic Salmon - cumulative effects

The proponent must fully consider the cumulative effects of the Project on the marine environment, and in particular, Atlantic Salmon.

To assess cumulative effects, the proponent should provide more detail and analysis that documents the population declines in Atlantic Salmon that have occurred within the traditional waters of Indigenous communities. Subsequently, the proponent should consider the impacts that climate change has had on the distribution of salmon and how the Project could potentially contribute and exacerbate an already declining population of salmon in the region.

It would also be important to implement well-planned monitoring programs to understand the cumulative effects of oil and gas activities on this species.

The proponent considered cumulative effects of the Project on Atlantic Salmon and provided information on potential factors that may be contributing to declines in Atlantic Salmon populations, including climate change. The proponent stated that the project area is not likely used by Atlantic Salmon as overwintering habitat or as a major feeding area. The proponent stated that offshore oil and gas projects have localized environmental effects and that exploration activities, such as those proposed as part of the Project, are short-term and within a relatively limited zone of influence, which would limit the potential for interactions between the effects of the Project on Atlantic Salmon and those other activities. The mitigation measures proposed would further reduce the potential for cumulative environmental effects of the Project on Atlantic Salmon and other marine species.

The proponent indicated that it may support research in collaboration with other operators on Atlantic Salmon. The proponent provides funding to the ESRF, in collaboration with other operators, and the data gap related to the migratory routes of Atlantic Salmon has already been presented to the ESRF as a new research priority. Equinor has purchased and provided the Atlantic Salmon Federation with 18 salmon tags to use in their salmon tagging program in Greenland. The proponent also noted that Husky Energy has placed Acoustic receivers for tagged salmon on its SeaRose production facility on the Grand Banks.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent regarding the Project's potential cumulative effects on Atlantic Salmon as well as consideration of the impacts that climate change may have had on the distribution of Atlantic Salmon and whether the Project could potentially contribute to or exacerbate and already declining population of salmon in the region.

The Agency also requested that the proponent discuss the need for follow-up related to project-specific or cumulative effects on Atlantic salmon.

The Agency is working with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and the C-NLOPB on a regional approach for assessing the environmental effects of offshore exploratory drilling in the offshore area of eastern Newfoundland, which would aim to examine the effects of existing and anticipated offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling, including cumulative environmental effects.

Innu de Ekuanitshit

Institut de développement durable des Premières Nations du Québec et du Labrador

KMKNO

MFN

MMS

MTI

Nunatsiavut Government

NunatuKavut Community Council

Première Nation de Nutashkuan

Cumulative effects of offshore drilling Concern regarding cumulative impacts of drilling fluid releases, other discharges and other effects, both from routine operations and accidental events, on fish, including swordfish, Atlantic Salmon, Bluefin Tuna and other species.

The proponent responded that offshore oil and gas projects have localized environmental effects, exploration activities are short-term and the Project would have a small footprint relative to the offshore area. The distances between the Project and other oil and gas activities would decrease the potential for interactions between the effects of multiple activities. These conditions would reduce the potential for individuals and populations to be affected through multiple interactions with the Project and other activities.

The proponent proposed various mitigation and monitoring measures for project-specific effects that it stated would also be applicable to cumulative environmental effects.

The proponent would adopt measures to prevent spills, including synthetic-based mud spills. However, should a spill occur, it stated that fish and mobile invertebrates would be capable of avoiding spilled muds and were not expected to be negatively affected. The proponent noted that due to the relatively non-toxic nature of water-based mud components, toxic effects to fish and benthic invertebrates would not be expected and that synthetic-based mud cuttings and mud would be returned to the drilling installation for treatment before discharge.

The proponent predicted that the likelihood of effects on fish would be very low and therefore, no effects on the current or future use of Atlantic Salmon, swordfish and Atlantic Bluefin tuna by Indigenous peoples were predicted.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent related to cumulative effects of the Project on species of importance to Indigenous groups. This information has been incorporated into its analysis.

The Agency is of the view that the mitigation, follow-up and monitoring proposed for the Project would contribute to the mitigation or monitoring of cumulative environmental effects.

The Agency is working with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and the C-NLOPB on a regional approach for assessing the environmental effects of offshore exploratory drilling in the offshore area of eastern Newfoundland, which would aim to examine the effects of existing and anticipated offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling, including cumulative environmental effects.

MTI Regional assessment A regional EA or a more comprehensive cumulative effects assessment for the Project as well as other proposed and potentially upcoming exploration and production projects must be conducted to provide a more accurate assessment of the potential magnitude of cumulative effects on migrating fish species, sea mammals and migratory birds. In advance of a Regional Assessment being completed, operators, including the proponent, are working together in conducting effects analyses (including for this Project), engaging Indigenous groups and identifying research needs (e.g., migration and effects to Atlantic Salmon). The Agency is working with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and the C-NLOPB on a regional approach for assessing the environmental effects of offshore exploratory drilling in the offshore area of eastern Newfoundland, which would aim to examine the effects of existing and anticipated offshore oil and gas exploratory drilling, including cumulative environmental effects.
Miscellaneous

KMKNO

MFN

MTI

Nunatsiavut Government

NunatuKavut Community Council

Monitoring and follow-up

Recommend that the proponent engages in additional follow-up monitoring, especially in relation to water quality, wildlife populations, fish tissue contamination and effects on species at risk and cumulative effects. Monitoring programs should include data collection that would improve the confidence level of assessing cumulative effects.

The proponent should provide detailed information on how the Indigenous groups would participate in the development and implementation of monitoring and follow-up measures, including integrating traditional knowledge in these activities.

The proponent committed to various follow-up measures related to fish and fish habitat (Section 8.6), Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles (Section 10.6), Migratory Birds (Section 9.6) and Special Areas (Section 11.5).

The proponent stated that they would continue their engagement efforts with Indigenous communities throughout the life of the Project. In particular, they committed to continue to share information about spill response, consider related concerns and issues, and share results and learning from response exercises with Indigenous groups, if requested. The Indigenous Communities Fisheries Communication Plan includes updates on the monitoring and follow-up programs.

The Agency identified various follow-up programs and proposed EA conditions. These are described throughout Sections 6 and 7 and Appendix A. Results and information from follow-up and monitoring programs would be shared with Indigenous groups.

Nunatsiavut Government Climate change/effects of the environment on the Project The proponent should take into account changes to predicted weather and marine patterns due to climate change, particularly in regards to extreme weather events.

As part of its EIS, the proponent considered climate change and potential changes in marine patterns.

The engineering designs of drilling installations consider the physical and environmental conditions of the project area and the drilling installation would be verified to ensure it is fit for purpose and can function as intended in the environment in which it would operate.

The Agency agrees that climate change may lead to changes in predicted weather and marine patterns, including changes to the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. It has proposed EA conditions that take these potential changes into account, including requiring the proponent to monitor meteorological and oceanographic conditions over the lifetime of the Project to forecast and respond to severe conditions. In addition, the proponent would be required to establish and enforce practices and limits for operating in all conditions that may be reasonably expected, including poor weather or high sea state and ensure that the drilling installation has the ability to quickly disconnect the riser from the well in the event of extreme weather conditions. Finally, the proponent would be required to report annually to the C-NLOPB on whether there has been a need to modify operations based on extreme environmental conditions and on the efficacy of the practices and limits established for operating in poor weather or high sea state. These measures are intended to be adaptive to potential changes to predicted weather and marine patterns due to climate change that could occur over the life of the Project.

Innu de Ekuanitshit

MTI

Icebergs and emergency response measures How would iceberg movement be monitored and potential collisions be avoided? Are there emergency evacuation and shut-down procedures to reduce some of the effects. The proponent would each be required to submit an Ice Management Plan to the C-NLOPB for approval, which has the intent of preventing an emergency situation. The Ice Management Plan would include systems for ice detection, monitoring and assessment as well as physical management, including iceberg towing and deflection.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures and proposed EA conditions to reduce the potential for iceberg collisions. These are described in Section 7.2.3 and Appendix A. Key mitigation measures include:

  • · in consultation with the C-NLOPB and ECCC, implement a physical environment monitoring program in accordance with the Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Drilling and Production Regulations and meeting or exceeding the requirements of the Offshore Physical Environmental Guidelines;
  • · in consultation with the C-NLOPB, establish and enforce practices and limits for operating all conditions that may be reasonably expected, including poor weather, high sea state, or sea ice or iceberg conditions;
  • · in consultation with the C-NLOPB and as part of the required Safety Plan, develop an Ice Management Plan including procedures for detection, surveillance, data collection, reporting, forecasting and avoidance or deflection; and
  • · in consultation with the C-NLOPB , implement measures to ensure the drilling installations have the ability to quickly disconnect the riser from the well in the event of an emergency or extreme weather conditions.

MFN

MMS

NunatuKavut Community Council

Decommissioning – effects of abandoned wellheads

Concern regarding the potential risks and effects of abandoned wellheads, including potential effects on commercial fisheries and risks of accidents and malfunctions.

The proponent must provide further justification for leaving wellheads in place.

The proponent indicated that locations of any wellheads left in place would be communicated to commercial fishers and other marine users as well as appropriate authorities through Notices to Mariners for inclusion on nautical charts.

The proponent stated that the waters within and immediately adjacent to its exploration licences have very little domestic and foreign fishing mainly due to water depths. Also a portion of exploration licence 1150 is closed to bottom contact fishing due to a North Atlantic Fisheries Organization Vulnerable Marine Ecosystem closure area. It indicated that wellhead removal might be accomplished more quickly in shallower areas and that the amount of fishing bottom lost would be small.

The proponent indicated that in deeper water and/or poor weather conditions, numerous challenges may prompt a company to avoid attempting to remove the wellhead using the drilling unit. It would instead leave the wellhead in place until some future date when a separately contracted vessel with more specialized cutting and removal equipment would be available.

The proponent indicated that in the event that a wellhead is left in place and protrudes above the seafloor, it would provide the location and other relevant information to the Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Hydrographic Service (for the issuance of Navigational Warnings, Notices to Mariners and chart updates) and to regional Canadian fishing organizations and NAFO. The proponent would develop and implement a compensation program to address any claims for damage to fishing gear.

The Agency requested additional information from the proponent on their well abandonment strategies. This information has been incorporated into its analysis.

The Agency also notes that the C-NLOPB has advised that, with respect to the risk for accidents and malfunctions, the integrity of abandoned wells would not be affected by where (or if) a wellhead is cut.

The Agency has identified key mitigation measures and proposed EA conditions related to well abandonment, including:

  • · preparing a well abandonment plan, including a wellhead abandonment strategy, and submitting it to the C-NLOPB for acceptance at least 30 days prior to abandonment of each well. If an abandoned wellhead could interfere with commercial fishing, develop the strategy in consultation with commercial fishers and Indigenous groups;
  • · ensure that details of abandoned wellheads, if left on the seafloor, are:
    • o published in Notices to Mariners;
    • o provided in Notices to Shipping; and
    • o communicated to fishers;
  • · provide information on the locations of any abandoned wellheads, left on the seafloor, to the Canadian Hydrographic Services for future nautical charts and planning.

Appendix D: Species at Risk and COSEWIC-listed Species that May be Found in the Eastern Newfoundland Offshore Area, Including the Project Area

The Agency has taken a conservative approach to identifying potential species at risk by including all species that were identified by the proponent in the EIS and additional species the Agency believes may occur in the eastern Newfoundland offshore based on other sources, including other EAs and input from federal authorities. The likelihood of a species occurring in the area and the time of year it may be present can vary greatly from one species to another.

Information has been updated in accordance with the Species at Risk Registry and reviewed by DFO and ECCC.

Species Species at Risk Act Status (Schedule 1) COSEWIC Assessment
Fish
Acadian Redfish (Sebastes fasciatus) – Atlantic population Not listed Threatened
American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) Not listed Threatened
American Plaice (Hippoglossoides platessoides) – Newfoundland and Labrador population Not listed Threatened
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) – Western Atlantic population Not listed Endangered
Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua) - Newfoundland and Labrador population Not listed Endangered
Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) - Inner Bay of Fundy population Endangered Endangered
Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) - Outer Bay of Fundy population Not listed Endangered
Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) - Eastern Cape Breton population Not listed Endangered
Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) - Nova Scotia Southern Upland population Not listed Endangered
Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) - South Newfoundland population Not listed Threatened
Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) - Quebec Eastern North Shore population Not listed Special concern
Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) - Quebec Western North Shore population Not listed Special Concern
Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) - Anticosti Island population Not listed Endangered
Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) - Inner St. Lawrence population Not listed Special concern
Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) - Gaspe-Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence population Not listed Special concern
Atlantic Wolffish (Striped Wolffish) (Anarhichas lupus) Special concern Special concern
Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) – Northeast Atlantic population Not listed Special concern
Cusk (Brosme brosme) Not listed Endangered
Deepwater Redfish (Sebastes mentalla) – Northern population Not listed Threatened
Lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus) Not listed Threatened
Northern (Broadhead) Wolffish (Anarhichas denticulatus) Threatened Threatened
Porbeagle Shark (Lamna nasus) Not listed Endangered
Roundnose Grenadier (Coryphaenoides rupestris) Not listed Endangered
Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) – Atlantic population Not listed Endangered
Smooth Skate (Malacoraja senta) - Funk Island Deep population Not listed Endangered
Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias) - Atlantic population Not listed Special concern
 

Spotted Wolffish (Anarhichas minor)

Threatened Threatened
Thorny Skate (Amblyraja radiata) Not listed Special concern
White Hake (Urophycis tenuis) – Atlantic and Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence population Not listed Threatened
White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) – Atlantic population Endangered Endangered
Winter Skate (Leucoraja ocellata) – Eastern Scotian Shelf - Newfoundland population Not listed Endangered
Marine Mammals
Atlantic Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosumarus) - Central/Low Arctic population Not listed Special concern
Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leuca) – St. Lawrence Estuary population Endangered Endangered
Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) – Atlantic population Endangered Endangered
Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus) ­– Eastern Canada-West Greenland population Not listed Special concern
Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) – Atlantic population Special concern Special concern
Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) - Northwest Atlantic population Not listed Special concern
Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) - Northwest Atlantic/Eastern Arctic population Not listed Special concern
North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Endangered Endangered
Northern Bottlenose Whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus) - Scotian Shelf population Endangered Endangered
Northern Bottlenose Whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus) - Davis Strait-Baffin Bay-Labrador Sea population Not listed Special concern
Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis) – Atlantic population Not listed Endangered
Sowerby's Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bidens) Special concern Special concern
Sea Turtles
Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) – Atlantic population Endangered Endangered
Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) Endangered Endangered
Birds
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) Threatened Threatened
Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica) Special concern Special concern
Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) Threatened Threatened
Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis) Special concern Special concern
Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) Threatened Threatened
Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus) Special concern Special concern
Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea) Endangered Endangered
Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi) Threatened Special concern
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) Special concern Not at risk
Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus melodus) Endangered Endangered
Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa) – Rufa subspecies Endangered Endangered
Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) Not listed Special concern
Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii) Endangered Endangered
Ross's Gull (Rhodostethia rosea) Threatened Threatened
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) Special concern Special concern

Sources: CNOOC 2018; Equinor Canada Ltd. 2017; ExxonMobil Canada Ltd. 2017; BP 2018; Husky 2018; and proponents' information requirement responses, 2018-2019. Species listings updated as per Canada's Species at Risk Public Registry, accessible at: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/species-risk-public-registry.html.

Appendix E: Special Areas in the Regional Study Area and their Proximity to the Exploration Licences and Transit Routes

Special Area Distance to Nearest Exploration Licence (kilometres) Distance to Proposed Transit Route (kilometres)
Marine Protected Areas and Areas of Interest
Eastport – Duck Island Marine Protected Area 508 149
Eastport – Round Island Marine Protected Area 515 140
Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas
Sea Pens 58 19
Large Gorgonian Corals 87 Overlaps
Small Gorgonian Corals 221 113
Sponges 389 200
Canadian Ecologically or Biologically Sensitive Areas
Northeast Slope 54 Overlaps
Virgin Rocks 265 69
Lilly Canyon-Carson Canyon 231 198
Southeast Shoal 370 297
Eastern Avalon 380 Overlaps
Southwest Slope 549 284
Placentia Bay 513 82
Smith Sound 469 79
Fogo Shelf 477 191
Grey Islands 579 283
Notre Dame Channel 458 233
Orphan Spur

251

172
Haddock Channel Sponges 558 200
St. Mary's Bay 490 69
Bonavista Bay 481 115
Baccalieu Island 376 10
Marine Refuges
Northeast Newfoundland Slope Closure 67 38
Funk Island Deep Closure 456 231
Division 3O Coral Closure 586 333
Gooseberry Island Lobster Area Closure 505 96
Gander Bay Lobster Area Closure 574 230
Canadian Fisheries Closure Areas
Eastport Peninsula Lobster Management Area 494 136
Funk Island Deep Box 456 231
Lobster Area Closures
Gander Bay 578 242
Gooseberry Island 504 97
Snow Crab Stewardship Exclusion Zones
Crab Fishing Area 5A 429 126
Crab Fishing Area 6A 403 67
Crab Fishing Area 6B 391 23
Crab Fishing Area 6C 381 Overlaps
Crab Fishing Area 8A 410 70
Crab Fishing Area 8BX 140 50
Crab Fishing Area 9A 486 123
Crab Fishing Area Near Shore 330 Overlaps
Preliminary Representative Marine Areas
Virgin Rocks 256 53
South Grand Bank Area 315 262
Northwestern Conception Bay 424 40
 
Migratory Bird Sanctuaries
Terra Nova 507 132
Coastal National Parks and Historic Sites
Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Sites 423 Overlaps
Signal Hill National History Site 427 Overlaps
Ryan Premises National Historic Site 464 124
Castle Hill National Historic Site 528 101
Terra Nova National Park 507 132
Coastal Ecological Reserves
Witless Bay 440 38
Baccalieu Island 435 63
Mistaken Point 484 108
Funk Island 504 246
Cape St. Mary's 553 140
Provincial Parks
Chance Cove 468 90
The Dungeon 462 125
Bellevue Beach 507 78
Gooseberry Cove 540 117
Windmill Bight 511 199
Deadman's Bay 523 209
Provincial Historic Sites
Cape Bonavista Lighthouse 463 129
Heart's Content Cable Station 478 60
United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas
Southeast Shoal and Adjacent Areas on the Tail of the Grand Banks 327 287
Seabird Foraging Zone in the Southern Labrador Sea 200 202
Orphan Knoll 239 252
Slopes of the Flemish Cap and Grand Banks Overlaps Overlaps
NAFO Fisheries Closure Areas
Tail of the Bank (1) 358 335
Flemish Pass/Eastern Canyon (2) 15 6
Beothuk Knoll (3) 138 141
Eastern Flemish Cap (4) 162 209
Northeast Flemish Cap (5) 150 202
Sackville Spur (6) 59 65
Northern Flemish Cap (7) 89 135
Northern Flemish Cap (8) 111 150
Northern Flemish Cap (9) 88 125
Northwest Flemish Cap (10) 6 35
Northwest Flemish Cap (11) Overlaps 21
Northwest Flemish Cap (12) 52 88
Beothuk Knoll (13) 97 109
3O Coral Closure 586 333
Orphan Knoll Seamount 248 248
Newfoundland Seamounts 359 360
Fogo Seamounts (1) 698 559
Fogo Seamounts (2) 785 335
Important Bird Areas
Quidi Vidi Lake 426 Overlaps
Witless Bay Islands 435 31
Cape St. Francis 428 23
Baccalieu Island 432 59
Grates Point 438 62
Mistaken Point 476 106
The Cape Pine and St. Shotts Barren 506 119
Placentia Bay 518 91
Terra Nova National Park 503 129
Funk Island 498 240
Cape Freels Coastline and Cabot Island 497 173
Cape St. Mary's 543 130
Wadham Islands and Adjacent Marine Area 533 231
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Sites
Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve 483 110

Source: CNOOC 2018; proponent's information requirement responses

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