Oil companies say precautions being taken for worker safety
The ban on nighttime helicopter flights to and from offshore oil installations — platforms and drill rigs — remains in place.
The Cougar helicopter ramp in St. John's — Telegram file photo
However, according to the operators of those installations, a request will be made in the near future to the offshore regulator, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB), for an extension on the flying day.
If agreed to, the request would see helicopters continue to take off and fly offshore during daylight hours, but would also allow for flights — while taking off in daylight — to land in St. John’s at night, just after dusk.
According to information provided, what is being requested would amount to about 1.5 hours of additional flying time each day for worker transports.
Paul Barnes with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers told The Telegram the request coming is for “a modest extension of the flying day.”
“The rationale, really, behind that is we’re finding ourselves in periods where there’s a backlog (in flights) due to fog or bad weather and certainly now, in the winter months, where we’re finding ourselves in reduced daylight hours, that there can be a backlog and if we can fly in this little bit of dusk essentially that we’re looking for, we can relieve many of these cases,” he said.
Representatives for Suncor, Husky Energy and the Hibernia Management and Development Corporation (HMDC) have said their companies are committing to not asking for further change in the status quo without a separate review and OK from the CNLOPB.
In other words, they will not schedule full return to night flights without a separate approval process.
And that is assuming this request gets an OK from the board when filed.
This afternoon in St. John’s, representatives for the oil companies will be making a presentation on the subject of flying time, as part of the CNLOPB’s latest safety forum. It will include information gathered in 12 sets of worker consultations at the province’s offshore installations, in August and September.
The presentation and subsequent discussion is scheduled to play out over the course of about two hours.
The operators say it is an informational piece and chance for open conversation. Their formal request to the board for an extended flying day will not be made today, but it will be in near future.
A few more steps
Before the formal filing, one additional set of consultations has to be completed, with workers on the West Aquarius drill rig. There will be a search and rescue exercise to come first in early November. Finally, the framework for a study on bird movements must be finalized.
Once these pieces are in place, the oil companies will be going to the CNLOPB on flight times.
“We are taking the employees feedback into consideration,” said Dwayne Zeller, asset manager for the Terra Nova FPSO for Suncor.
Zeller completed the consultations on helicopter flying time with workers at Terra Nova. “We certainly understand it’s an emotional issue,” he said.
Transport Canada has jurisdiction over helicopter flights. That regulator has approved the aircraft used by Cougar Helicopters to fly oil workers offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as their operation.
Even so, in an agreement between the CNLOPB and oil companies, flights have been restricted to daylight hours in the province since the crash of Cougar Flight 491, and the death of 17 people.
That accident led to a re-evaluation of offshore helicopter flights by all parties involved with the oil projects.
The CNLOPB launched an Offshore Helicopter Safety Inquiry, resulting in a set of recommendations related to safety and the creation of an implementation team, to make sure those recommendation became reality.