The first exploration well was drilled in Canada’s offshore between 1943 and 1945 in eight metres of water 13 kilometres off Prince Edward Island. Hillsborough No. 1 was drilled from an artificial island made of wood cribbing, rock and concrete, and reached a depth of 4,479 metres before it was abandoned without encountering oil or natural gas. 


In 1979 two finds marked the beginning of a string of crude oil and natural gas discoveries:

  • The Venture natural gas discovery near Sable Island was the first of six natural gas fields that now make up the Sable Offshore Energy Project, which began production in 1999.
  • The Hibernia crude oil and gas discovery began a new chapter on the Grand Banks. Development approval for Hibernia was received in 1986, but a drop in world oil prices shelved the project until the 1990s.
A half-century of effort was invested before the first commercial quantities of crude oil were produced off Nova Scotia in 1992 from the Cohasset-Panuke project.


There are approximately $353.7 million in exploration commitments for offshore Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotia government established the Offshore Energy Research Association to support research into the province’s offshore petroleum geology. The aim is to develop additional knowledge in these areas in the hopes of reducing future exploration risk and costs in the search for offshore oil and gas.


Recent exploration work on the East coast has been focused on targets in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, notably off of western Newfoundland and Cape Breton. 


The Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association (NOIA) has developed an interactive map which shows all of the petroleum licenses in Newfoundland and Labrador and shows the name of the company that holds the license, the type of license, the date of expiry, etc. 

Relevant links 

Canada’s Evolving Offshore Oil and Gas Industry” 2007

Canadian Centre for Energy Information has information pertaining to the history of the offshore industry, Canada’s offshore projects, and other relevant information. 

Natural Resources Canada's BASIN Website

contains a wealth of geological, geophysical and engineering information related to many years of petroleum exploration, primarily offshore northern and eastern Canada. BASIN includes both basic and interpreted information for most petroleum industry exploration wells and locational data for a large number of seismic surveys.


Regulatory Framework

Legislation and Regulations

Canada has a set of four principle Acts which govern oil and gas activities in the offshore:

Canada Petroleum Resources Act

Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act

Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Act

Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act

For information on these Acts visit Natural Resources Canada: Legislation and Regulations


Offshore oil and gas exploration and development is regulated in Atlantic Canada principally by two organizations that are arms-length from governments and reports to both federal and provincial Ministers of Natural Resources.

    1. Canada - Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board
    2. Canada - Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board

For those areas not under the jurisdiction of either of the Boards mentioned above the National Energy Board is the federal organization responsible for regulation.


The "Accord"

On March 24, 2011, the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of Natural Resources, and Nathalie Normandeau, Quebec Deputy Premier, Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife and Minister responsible for the Northern Plan, announced that the Governments of Canada and Quebec have reached an important accord on the development of oil and gas resources in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (the "Accord"). The Accord envisions the development of a shared management structure which would avoid administrative overlap (the "Joint Canada-Quebec Secretariat"). In addition, regulatory functions would be jointly governed by the National Energy Board and the Régie de l'énergie (through the "Canada-Quebec Joint Regulatory Office").


The Frontier Lands Management Division of Natural Resources Canada manages the national interest in joint management regimes (e.g. CNSOPB) that have been established, or will be established, on Canada's frontier lands which includes Atlantic Canada’s offshore.


Detailed guides on the regulatory process for Newfoundland and Labrador’s and Nova Scotia’s offshore are available from the Oil and Gas Guide.


Environmental issues


The National Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime was established in 1995 and is built on a partnership between government and industry. Transport Canada is the lead federal regulatory agency responsible for the regime. Transport Canada sets the guidelines and regulatory structure for the preparedness and response to marine oil spills.


The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) is responsible for conducting spill management under section 180 of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.  Specifically, it:

  • provides a national preparedness capacity and manages the National Response Team;
  • ensures an appropriate response to marine pollution incidents as the Federal Monitoring Officer or On-scene Commander 


Transport Canada has a National Preparedness Plan that lays out the overall framework for the national preparedness capacity to combat marine oil pollution incidents in Canada.  Similarly, the CCG has a National Response Plan that identifies how CCG will manage the response to a marine oil spill, including the deployment of personnel and response resources.


Companies involved in the development of oil and natural gas offshore Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia have many measures in place to prevent spills. The brochure "Spill Prevention and Response in Atlantic Canada" was published in 2006 to summarize companies' prevention and response plans. 


Environment Canada has published "Oil, Water and Chocolate Mousse about oil, water, and oil spills". Chocolate mousse is a name given to a particular combination of oil and water that sometimes forms when oil is spilled.


Seismic noise

The International Association of Oil and Gas Producers funds the E&P Sound and Marine Life Joint Industry Program (JIP). E&P refers to the sound produced during Exploration and Production activities of the offshore oil and gas industries. Results of JIP research projects are available online.  


The results of the studies funded through the JIP will provide objective, material scientific information that will:

  1. afford a more comprehensive understanding of the potential environmental risks from oil and gas operations;
  2. inform and update policy decision makers and regulatory development processes that affect our operations globally;
  3. determine the basis for mitigation measures that are protective of marine life, cost effective and credible with outside stakeholders; and
  4. feed into planning for efficient E & P project development that is environmentally protective.


For more information on the environmental programs of the regulatory agencies, please visit their websites.

Offshore Wind Energy

While offshore wind energy is undergoing rather rapid global growth, Canada does not yet have any offshore wind facilities installed. However, the resource potential for this technology in Canada is significant and thus wind energy project developers are studying both Canada’s West coast and the Great Lakes for possible offshore wind farms. Offshore wind farms are more common in Europe. The turbines from the Burbo Bank wind farm, off the coast of Liverpool, England that generates 90 megawatts of electricity -- enough power for approximately 80,000 homes. 

Offshore wind can offer key advantages if the right locations are chosen, such as:

  • Higher wind speeds
  • Lower wind turbulence offshore reduces stresses on the turbine for a particular wind speed
  • More constant winds (higher capacity factor)

Despite these advantages, offshore wind farms are relatively new, and face higher construction and operating costs than on-shore turbines.


Text above relies heavily on the Natural Resources Canada's CanMetEnergy site.


The Offshore Wind Energy website is a general source of information and knowledge to existing and new professionals working in the field of offshore wind energy.


The NaiKun Wind Energy Project in Hecate Strait on the west coast is the only Canadian offshore wind project. In March 2011, the project was granted an environmental screening decision under the Canada Environmental Assessment Act.  Construction is dependent upon receiving an energy purchase agreement.


Cape Wind is the first American offshore wind project to receive approval from federal and state regulators to build an offshore wind farm on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound. 

Marine Energy

Canada’s marine energy resources

Natural Resources Canada's CanmetENERGY website has an overview article: What is marine renewable energy?


Andrew Cornett from the Canadian Hydraulics Centre of the National Research Council published an inventory of Canada’s marine renewable energy resources in April 2006 (Cornett, A. 2006. Inventory of Canada’s Marine Energy Resources, NRC Report CHC-TR-041). The report quantified and mapped energy resources due to waves and tidal currents.


The report concluded that the annual mean wave power along the 1,000 metre-isobaths off Canada’s Atlantic coast sums to roughly 146,500 MW, or more than double the current electricity demand. The wave energy available in winter is generally four to seven times greater than in summer. It is important to recognize that due to various factors including environmental considerations, losses associated with power conversion, and socio-economic factors, only a fraction of the available wave energy resource can be extracted and converted into useful electric power. Even so, the Canadian resources are considered sufficient to justify further research into their development as an important source of renewable green energy for the future.


According to Dr. Cornett’s report, Canada is also endowed with sizeable tidal current energy resources. Compared to other renewable energy sources such as solar, winds and waves, tidal currents have the distinct advantage of being reliable and highly predictable. A total of 190 sites with potential mean power greater than 1 MW were identified. The total mean potential power at these 190 sites exceeds 42,000 MW. Classified by Province and Territory, Nunavut has by far the largest potential resource, while British Columbia has the most sites with mean power greater than 1 MW. The report identified 21 sites in the Bay of Fundy with a potential tidal current energy greater than 100 MW totaling 2,725 MW of potential energy. It is important to note that, as in the case of wave energy, only a fraction of the available tidal current resource can be converted into useable energy without noticeable impact on tides and tidal flows. The effects of extracting energy from tidal currents and from ocean waves should be assessed carefully on a case-by-case basis.  


The report recommended further wave-energy studies for southeastern Newfoundland and the southeastern shore of Cape BretonThe report also recommended further modeling studies in the Bay of Fundy to improve the definition of the tidal current resources available, and to investigate the impact of energy extraction on the tidal flows throughout the region.


Relevant Links

  • Marine Renewables Canada, formerly Ocean Renewable Energy Group (OREG), aligns industry, academia and government to ensure that Canada is a leader in providing ocean energy solutions to a world market.
  • The "Fournier Report" (2011) includes 27 recommendations for the creation of future marine renewable energy policy and legislation in Nova Scotia, Canada. The report is organized under four main categories: planning, economic opportunities, research, and regulation. The report is available in French and English.
  • A short video titled “Coastal Power” explores new developments in sustainable energy around the coastline of Scotland, notably wave power, tidal power and offshore wind turbines and the role that the University of Edinburgh is playing in this.

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