Two leases, granted to Norwegian energy giant Statoil, would allow the company to look for oil offshore — on two parcels of land near the Georges Bank and the entrance to the Gulf of Maine.
The possibility that Statoil will drill at the sites worries both Nova Scotia environmentalists, concerned about a potential spill, and fishermen who harvest lobsters, scallops and groundfish.
Statoil paid $82 million for the rights to the two ocean-floor parcels.
Nick Record is a Senior Research Scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay. In his work, Record uses computer modeling to study the biogeography and biogeochemistry of the ocean.
"The main place that water would come into the Gulf of Maine is the Northeast Channel and that would be where I would be the most worried," he says.
Shell Canada is already drilling two wells in deep water east of the Northeast Channel and Statoil's parcels. But Record says those wells don't pose as big a risk.
"If you were to have a Deep Horizon-like spill, where the oil is coming up from the sea floor, there would be a very small chance of that coming into the Gulf of Maine because it's so much deeper than the shelf the Gulf of Maine sits on," he says.
But Record says drilling in the northern parts of Statoil's ocean-floor parcels, closer the Northeast Channel, could be more risky due to the possibility of a spill closer to the surface.
"And you know, they have done some sort of trajectory analysis, in different times of year, in different weather conditions, to see where spilled oil would go," he says. "And for the most part, it stays out of the Gulf of Maine. But there's always the possibility that you have just the right weather conditions and a spill near the surface and it could get pulled along the Scotian shelf and into the Gulf of Maine."
It's possible that Statoil will sit tight and hold on to the leases while watching to see if the Shell Canada wells yield much oil.
An official with the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board was not available to do a taped interview. But in an email, the board's spokesperson noted that any drilling project would require an extensive environmental assessment, including spill trajectory monitoring.