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Offshore oil spill appears to be largest in Newfoundland history, effects still unknown

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Officials were trying Monday to determine the impact of Friday’s estimated 250,000-litre oil spill — the largest in  Newfoundland and Labrador’s history — in the White Rose offshore oil field.

The oil is believed to have spilled from a flowline to the SeaRose floating production storage and offloading vessel (FPSO), which is stationed about 350 kilometres off the east coast of the Avalon Peninsula.

If Husky’s estimate of the spill volume — 250 cubic metres, or 250,000 litres — is correct, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) has confirmed that it is the largest oil spill in the province’s history. 

Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady told CBC’s St. John’s Morning Show on Monday that the spill is believed to be a “batch spill” and that it is likely not continuing. 

But there’s still no way to be absolutely sure, she said, since poor weather conditions and rough seas have made it impossible to send remotely operated underwater vehicles down to take a look at the damage.

“This is an ongoing situation,” she said. “The consideration of how much oil has been let go and what the effects are of this spill is ongoing.”

Husky estimates 250,000 litres of oil spilled from a flowline to the FPSO SeaRose Friday.

It’s the second bout of trouble for the SeaRose FPSO this year. In January, production on the vessel was suspended by the C-NLOPB because of how Husky handled a close call with an iceberg that got too close to the vessel.

Husky told CBC News it would not be doing interviews about the spill.

Rough seas

Operations on the vessel were halted Thursday because of the high winds and crashing waves, Coady said, during what was said by meteorologists to be the “most intense storm” on the planet.

The storm was nasty enough to temporarily shut down production on all other offshore production facilities in the province.

Coady said the timing of Husky’s call to stop to all operations lined up with the safety and environmental plans detailed in its operating licence.

The spill occurred as Husky was bringing production back online, she said, and the continuing rough seas have hampered cleanup.

There were multiple flights over the area during the weekend, she said, to monitor the situation from above, and “several vessels” took officials out to monitor the wildlife in the area.

“We are waiting for the weather to clear to put a remotely operated vehicle so they can inspect, sub-sea, the assets, to start the process of understanding what happened,” she said.

Those “assets” include the flowline itself and the FPSO, she said.

Husky could face penalties

Coady said the impacts and causes of the spill are being thoroughly investigated. If any breaches of protocol are found, she said Husky could face penalties or even a suspension of their operating license, though she was hesitant to provide exact details.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” she said

Coady says the C-NLOPB’s response to the spill will be investigated. (CBC)

And while all that is being scrutinized, so too will be the C-NLOPB’s response to the spill, she said.

“There will be a full investigation, obviously, of this.”

With files from Fred Hutton

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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