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Oil, gas operators offshore Nova Scotia, onshore Newfoundland brace for Chris

Houston — Oil and gas operators in the Nova Scotia offshore play and oil producers in the Newfoundland offshore play are bracing for the arrival of post-tropical Cyclone Chris, which was expected to pass near southeastern Newfoundland later Thursday.

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"All operators continue to monitor forecasted weather and sea-state conditions, and are implementing precautionary measures as required," Stacy O'Rourke, a spokeswoman for the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, said Thursday morning.

BP Canada said Wednesday it pulled its semi-submersible drilling rig, the Seadrill West Aquarius, off the site of where it was drilling an exploratory well off the coast of Nova Scotia, 330 kilometers (330 miles) southeast of Halifax.

"As a precautionary measure, BP disconnected and moved the West Aquarius Drilling Unit away from the exploratory well location until the weather system passes and sea states subside," the company said in a statement on its website.

BP's drilling operations at the site are currently suspended while the CNSOPB investigates the cause of an unauthorized discharge of drilling mud, which occurred last month, O'Rourke said.

In a July 3 statement, BP said it had addressed the cause of the drilling mud release and was ready to commence drilling operations once permission was granted by the CNSOPB.

"The repairs and integrity testing are now complete and it was determined that the cause of the leak was a loose connection of the booster line on the riser," the company said.

In addition, ExxonMobil said Wednesday that, based on the forecasted weather and sea-state conditions related to the storm, it had evacuated some non-essential personnel from the Thebaud platform and the Noble Regina Allen Drilling Unit, two units of the Sable Offshore Energy Facilities.

The US National Hurricane Center reported as of 11 am EDT, the center of Post-Tropical Cyclone Chris was located about 290 miles east of Halifax.

On the forecast track, Chris is expected to pass over or near the Avalon Peninsula of southeastern Newfoundland late afternoon and early evening Thursday.

The Avalon Peninsula in southwestern Newfoundland and Labrador, along with the prolific Jeanne d'Arc Basin, are the two oil main oil-producing areas of the province.

Total output in May from the Hibernia, Hebron, White Rose and Terra Nova fields was 268,645 b/d in May, according to the latest report from the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

A bulk of that crude is marketed through Panamax and Aframax vessels from Newfoundland to refineries in the US and Canadian East Coast, with some volumes also now being shipped to the US Gulf Coast.

The hurricane center said the post-tropical cyclone was moving toward the northeast near 36 mph and this motion is expected to continue through Friday. Maximum sustained winds are near 70 mph with higher gusts, but slight weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours, the hurricane center reported. --Jim Magill, Ashok Dutta,

--Edited by Valarie Jackson,