Canadian Oil Platform Operator HMDC Pleads Guilty to Causing 2019 Spill

Hibernia Platform Canada
Canada's Hibernia Platform operator pleaded guilty and is paying a fine for the July 2019 oil spill (HMDC)

Published Aug 2, 2023 3:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

Canadian regulators and the Hibernia Management and Development Company (HMDC), an oil company in part owned by ExxonMobil Canada, Chevron Canada Resources, and Suncor, have agreed to a settlement for a 2019 oil pollution incident from a platform off St. John’s Newfoundland. Under the terms of the agreement, HMDC is pleading guilty to a charge of failing to stop work causing pollution and paying fines and penalties totaling C$400,000 (US$300,000).

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), an independent regulator of petroleum activities in the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Area, had filed charges in August 2022 against the company after its investigation into the July 2019 incident which released an estimated 12,000 liters of a crude oil and water mixture into the Atlantic Ocean.

The regulators at the time expressed concern about the operating procedures at the platform investigating a possible delay in shutting down the operations. Their concerns were further raised when less than a month later, the platform had a second, smaller release of contaminated water.

The Hibernia Platform is approximately 195 miles east of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Avalon Peninsula. It rests on the seabed in approximately 260 feet of water. 


The July 2019 incident released an estimated 12,000 liters of oil into the Atlantic (C-NLOPB photo)


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

The regulator’s overflights of the platform initially spotted one oil slick estimated to be nearly three miles at its widest point. The following day they reported locating two smaller slicks. By the end of the month, they reported that the concentrations of oil had decreased to the point that mechanical recovery and dispersion operations were no longer possible.

The Hibernia Platform was permitted to resume production on August 15, but just two days later on August 17, there was a second incident when an estimated 2,184 liters of oil were released into the ocean. A subsequent report showed that this incident was due to a loss of power on a generator when the other generator was offline for maintenance. The fire suppression deluge system was inadvertently activated causing drains to overflow and the release of contamination. 

After a suite of corrective actions, that included procedural changes, training, and a certifying authority review, the regulators approved a restart plan on September 26, 2019. 

For the August discharge they initially issued a notice of violation for C$40,000 but it was reduced to C$28,000 in April 2022. However, after an extensive investigation, three charges were brought in August 2022 against the operator for the July 2019 incident. This included not ceasing work without delay, failing to follow their procedures for managing risk, and for the oil spill. HMDC initially in January 2023 entered a plea of not guilty to the charges.

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