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ExxonMobil Canada begins work to decommission Sable Island project

ExxonMobil Canada, operator of the Sable Island Offshore Energy Project, is taking the first steps to begin the long process of decommissioning the project off the coast of Nova Scotia, a company spokesman said Thursday.

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A jack-up drilling rig, the Noble Regina Allen, which will be used in the first phase of the decommissioning process, arrived in Halifax Harbor on Tuesday, ExxonMobil spokesman Merle MacIsaac said in an email.

"The rig will be taking on supplies and undergoing some final inspections. Contingent on a weather window and other factors, we expect the rig will be towed out to the Sable field later in November," he said.

The first major scope of decommissioning work will consist of plugging and abandoning Sable's wells, drilled in water depths that range from 22-76 meters (72-250 feet).

"As we've said previously, the program of well plugging and abandonment will take as long as necessary to safely and securely seal the wells. We estimate the work could take up to two years," MacIsaac said.

Sable Island, Nova Scotia's first major offshore gas project, was built in phases with first gas production achieved December 31, 1999. Sable production has been on the decline in recent months and ExxonMobil, acknowledging that the project was nearing the end of its productive life, announced decommissioning plans in 2015.

According to Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board data, gas equivalent production from Sable Island ranged from 517,802 cu m/month in December 2001 to 90,906 cu m/month in September, the most recent month for which data is available.

The project comprises seven offshore platforms producing from five natural gas fields -- Venture, South Venture, Thebaud, North Triumph, Glenelg and Alma -- near Sable Island, approximately 225 km (140 miles) off the east coast of Nova Scotia.

The development is spread over 200 square km (77 square miles) and includes 22 wells and 340 km (211 miles) of subsea pipelines.

"Production from the Sable field continues in parallel with well P&A activities, and the timing for the end of production has not yet been determined," MacIsaac said.

ExxonMobil has targeted 2020 for the removal of all offshore facilities. Heerema Marine Contractors was the successful bidder for that work.

In addition to ExxonMobil Canada, Sable Island partners include Shell Canada Limited, Imperial Oil Resources, Pengrowth, and Mosbacher Operating.

--Jim Magill,

--Edited by Jason Lindquist,