Activity Authorizations

It’s our job to ensure that all oil and gas activity carried out in the Canada-Nova Scotia offshore area is done safely and in an environmentally responsible manner. 

Proposing a program?

We strongly encourage operators to begin discussions about proposed activity prior to (minimum 10 months) a proposed program to ensure the regulatory process is fully understood and sufficient time is provided to our team to complete our review.

Every operator that wants to conduct activities in the Canada-Nova Scotia offshore area must submit an application and an authorization must be granted before this work can begin. Depending on the type of activity, additional approvals may also be required. The application must meet our standards to ensure the work will be conducted in a manner that prioritizes the well-being of personnel working offshore, protection of the environment, and co-existence with other ocean users and industries (e.g. fishing, shipping, etc.). We go to great lengths to ensure that strict requirements are met before an authorization may be granted, which includes:

  • Ensuring all necessary equipment, systems, operating plans and procedures are in place
  • Appropriately trained personnel are in place
  • All reasonable precautions are taken to protect safety and the environment

Our Authorization Process

One of the first steps of the authorization process is the completion of an Environmental Assessment. Depending on the type of activity, we may lead a project-specific environmental assessment or the Impact Assessment Agency may lead an impact assessment to support our review of an application pursuant to the Accord Acts. Depending on the legislative requirements for a proposed specific activity, an environmental assessment or impact assessment process can be completed between approximately six months to three years. This process must be completed before an application for an authorization for offshore activities may be approved.

Before an operator proposes an activity, the operator must prepare and compile documentation related to the proposed project, in addition to the environmental assessment process. The operator must also apply for an operating licence which is valid for one fiscal year (April 1 to March 31) and reapply after the licence has expired. Once an operating licence has been issued, the operator cannot transfer the licence to another company.

When the operator is preparing to submit documents for an activity authorization, we will assign a coordinator to facilitate the review completed by our team. Reviewing an activity authorization is a collaborative effort across our organization. 

Once all documents are reviewed and an authorization is granted, our role transitions to Monitoring and Compliance. This is to ensure activities are conducted in compliance with all regulatory requirements and commitments made as part of the application for the activity. We also ensure the activity is conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner for the duration of the project. 

Learn more below about activity authorizations and operator expectations.

Activity Authorization Application

We expect operators to develop a series of comprehensive plans and procedures that demonstrate they’re able to perform all activity in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. Learn more about key submissions for an activity authorization below.

Activity Authorizations FormsOperators must complete the appropriate application forms and submit them as part of their activity authorization application.

Below are some of the application forms operators must complete to work in the Canada-Nova Scotia offshore area.

Description of Scope and Schedule of Proposed ActivitiesOperators must provide a detailed description of the scope and schedule of the proposed activities.

Although the scope and schedule of proposed activity is included in the operator’s Environmental Assessment or impact assessment, this is an opportunity for the operator to provide more detailed and updated information from the time of assessment (e.g. contracts for supply vessels, aviation support, etc.). 

Declaration of OperatorBefore any activity can be undertaken, the operator must demonstrate the equipment is fit for purpose and offshore workers are properly trained.

A declaration is signed by a senior officer of the operator. The declaration states that this officer has undertaken, or caused to be undertaken, sufficient work to ensure that the equipment is fit for purpose and the personnel are properly trained so that the activity can be undertaken safely.

Safety PlanA comprehensive safety plan is a critical component of the authorization application.

This plan outlines the necessary steps that will be taken to ensure the safety of personnel and offshore installations, vessels and support craft.

Key features of the safety plan from the operator include:

  • Standards of operation
  • Their safety policy
  • Organizational structure and executive oversight
  • Resources, roles, responsibilities and authority
  • Training requirements and competency assurance
  • Risk assessment and management
  • Identification of safety critical structures, facilities, equipment, and systems and risk reviews for each
  • Safety procedures
  • Incident management
  • Operations integrity and asset management
  • Operational objectives and targets
  • Assessment and auditing
  • Reporting

The operator must also provide documents that show how their safety plans and procedures will bridge with those of the contractors.

Environmental Protection PlanA detailed environmental protection plan must demonstrate how the operator’s plans and procedures will protect the environment and minimize any potential impacts.

The plan outlines the procedures, practices, resources and monitoring necessary to manage the waste, emissions and discharges and the environmental hazards identified for the project. The plan ensures compliance with the conditions of an environmental assessment approval, as appropriate. The plan will reference the operator’s corporate policies and procedures as well as and project specific policies and procedures required to work in this jurisdiction.

The plan will include:

  • Resources, roles, responsibilities and authority with respect to environmental management for the project
  • Training and competency
  • Chemical selection process
  • Treatment requirements and discharge limits for all discharges
  • Spill containment and prevention systems
  • Compliance monitoring and performance measurement
  • Environmental effects monitoring
  • Emergency preparedness and response
  • Incident reporting and investigation
  • Equipment and instrument inspection programs

Emergency Response Plan and ProceduresIn the unlikely event of an offshore emergency, operators are required to have detailed emergency response plans and procedures.

These plans address all potential safety and environmental risks such as extreme weather events, spills and blowouts, collisions and aircraft incidents, etc. Operators must provide details about Emergency Preparedness and Response methods to manage a potential incident.
This includes:

  • Incident classification (in consideration of risk and consequence)
  • Incident management teams (based on the classification)
  • Local, regional and global resources and response teams
  • Internal and external notification procedures
  • Incident response structure, command post and communication
  • Roles and responsibilities of incident management team
  • Training and competencies
  • Exercises and drills

Oil Spill Response PlanAn oil spill response plan demonstrates what an operator will do in the unlikely event of an oil spill.

Like other plans, the operator must provide details about Emergency Preparedness and Response related to oil spills. This document contains specific details regarding:

  • Incident classification and management
  • Notification and internal and external communication procedures
  • Roles, responsibilities, training and competencies specific to spills

The oil spill response plan must describe:

  • The various spill response options and resources available and when to make use of them including monitoring natural attenuation
  • Containment and recovery
  • In-situ burning
  • Surveillance
  • Shoreline protection and clean-up
  • Mechanical and chemical dispersants

To support assessment of response options, operators must conduct spill modelling and, to allow for the use of chemical dispersants, conduct a spill impact mitigation assessment and provide it to us for approval.

The plan must also include monitoring and sampling activities to confirm the effectiveness of spill response measures and measures and practices for the protection, monitoring, collection and rehabilitation of potentially oiled wildlife.

The operator must also describe procedures for compensation and management of claims for those impacted by the potential spill.

Blowout Prevention MeasuresOperators are required to have safeguards in place to prevent oil and/or gas from escaping from a well.

We require operators to demonstrate the equipment and measures they will employ to prevent a blowout, as well as the equipment and measures to contain and stop the flow of oil from a blowout. This must include measures for monitoring and management wellbore pressure and a description of the function and features of the blowout preventer to prevent a blowout. It must include the various options for activation of the blowout preventer in the event that the initial mechanism fails and a blowout occurs, the details of mobilization, transport and installation of a capping stack and other containment options and the details for drilling a relief well. 

Certificate of FitnessWe require operators to submit the appropriate documents signifying their equipment is fit for purpose.

A Certificate of Fitness is required for exploratory drilling. Certificates of Fitness are provided by an approved third party certifying that the rig is fit for the proposed project along with specific conditions or measures that must be employed during drilling, if appropriate.

Resource Management and Conservation StrategyWe expect operators to recover oil and gas efficiently and prevent waste.

These strategies ensure the operator’s resource conservation plans comply with the regulatory requirements of the legislation and regulations. Learn more about Resource Management and Resource Conservation.

Canada-Nova Scotia Benefits PlanOperators must submit a plan detailing how they plan to meet the industrial benefits requirements set out in the legislation.

This plan demonstrates the operator’s commitment to providing Industrial Benefits and employment opportunities on a full and fair basis for residents of Canada, and in particular, Nova Scotia, that will arise from the oil and gas activity in the Canada-Nova Scotia offshore area.

Activity Financial RequirementsOperators must demonstrate that they meet the financial requirements listed in the legislation.

We require documentation outlining the Operator’s Financial Obligations to ensure they can be met. This includes the financial resources in place to undertake the proposed activity and to respond to any incidents that may occur, including responding to and cleaning up a spill.


Ready-for-Operation Audits and Pre-Authorization Inspections

Ready-for-Operations Audits and pre-authorization inspections are part of our comprehensive review process. Our staff have extensive experience in health and safety, environmental protection, drilling and production operations, emergency response, geoscience, resource management, engineering, industrial benefits and financial assurance. They lead on-site inspections and audit facilities, equipment and arrangements of both the operator and their key contractors to verify regulatory compliance and to evaluate readiness for operations.

Along with our reviews of the operator documentation, the ultimate goal of these audits and inspections is to confirm that equipment is fit for purpose, the appropriate operating plans and procedures are in place and functioning and that personnel have the necessary training and competencies. Before an authorization of any kind may be granted, our team must be satisfied that the application meets our requirements. 

Lifecycle of Offshore Projects and Protocols with Fisheries

The lifecycle of an offshore oil and gas project has of four main phases: exploration, development, production and decommissioning. Each phase of the project is different and requires operators to apply for an activity authorization at each stage of the project’s lifecycle. We also have standard marine protocols in place that vary based on the phase of the offshore project. We require this so an open line of communications exists between operators and other ocean users to prevent collisions and/or monitor marine and seabird life.   

Learn more about the phases of offshore projects and what marine protocols may be in place.

Lifecycle of Offshore ProjectsOil and gas activities take place during different stages of a project’s lifecycle. Learn more.

Exploration Phase

During the exploration phase, an operator is searching for oil and gas resources. This type of activity typically consists of a geophysical program to obtain seismic data by getting images of the rock layers beneath the ocean floor. These images are analyzed to pinpoint areas that may contain oil or gas resources.

If an oil or gas resource is identified, the operator may apply to us for an exploratory drilling program. An exploratory drilling program can confirm if oil or gas is present and the amount available. This is completed by drilling into the earth’s surface and completing several tests for oil and gas.

Before any exploration activity can occur, an operator must apply to us to complete the exploratory work. The operator must provide information to meet our health, safety, and environmental expectations.

Development and Production Phase

If the exploration phase is successful, the operator may decide to develop the oil or gas resource for production. In order to develop or produce an oil or gas resource, we must approve the development plan submitted to us by the operator.

A development plan details how an operator would get the oil and gas resources from the beneath the earth’s surface, including the type of structure and system the operator is proposing to use. The development plan is submitted to us for approval with supporting documents to show how the activity would be completed responsibly, in a safe manner while protecting the environment, providing opportunities to individuals and companies in Nova Scotia and other parts of Canada and maximizing the oil and gas resources produced. If we approve the development plan, an operator may apply for an activity authorization to further develop and begin to install the infrastructure to eventually be able to produce the oil or gas resource.

When the installation of the infrastructure is complete, the operator must apply to us in order to begin producing the oil or gas resource.

Decommissioning and Abandonment Phase

When a project reaches the end of its lifecycle and has stopped producing oil and gas, it must be decommissioned. This means the infrastructure needs to be dismantled and removed, leaving the area with minimal environmental impacts and no potential obstructions to other ocean users.

An operator is required to apply to us and receive our authorization before they can begin to decommission and remove the infrastructure.

Standard Marine Protocols with FisheriesStandard marine protocols to communicate and avoid collision with other vessels, including safety zones and Notices to Mariners, are required for all offshore activities under our jurisdiction. Learn more.

We require a 500 metre safety zone around drilling and production installations, where non-project vessels are restricted from entering. Outside of this zone, operators are required to work with commercial fishing vessels to minimize interactions. As well, if interference with fishing equipment occurs, operators are required to adhere to their Operator Financial Obligations for claims and compensation.

We may also require a fisheries observer to be present depending on the activity, (e.g. seismic activity). This is determined as part of our review prior to an activity authorization. A fisheries observer is hired by the operator and must have knowledge of the potential fishing activity in the area, in addition to marine and seabird knowledge if applicable. Fisheries observers ensure effective communication between the operator and fishers and monitor and record marine mammal and seabird observations that are reported back to us.