Reports filed by oil companies on safety-related incidents in the Newfoundland offshore can be kept off-limits from the public, a Federal Court judge has ruled.

The case was sparked by a CBC News access-to-information request two years ago. That request sought reports related to incidents on the Henry Goodrich drilling rig.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), which regulates the province’s offshore, decided to release the records.

But Husky Oil Operations Limited filed a Federal Court action to stop that from happening.

In a decision last month, Justice Elizabeth Heneghan agreed with the oil company’s arguments.

“I acknowledge that safety is a concern of the board, and that there is a public interest in the safe operation of offshore petroleum operations,” Heneghan wrote in her decision.

“However, the public interest alone does not justify disclosure of reports and information generated by offshore petroleum operators.”

Section of Atlantic Accord Act

The case revolved around a section of the Atlantic Accord Act dealing with privileged information.

The C-NLOPB had argued the safety records could be released anyway, because there was a public interest in doing so.

'I agree with the submissions of [Husky] that if Parliament had intended to confer a broad public interest discretion, it would have done so in clear terms.' - Federal Court Justice Elizabeth Heneghan

Husky maintained that was the wrong interpretation, and there was no such discretion under the law.

Heneghan agreed.

“In exempting information from disclosure, the business, privacy or other interests that are at stake must be weighed against the public interest in favouring disclosure,” she wrote in her decision.

“The public interest per se, however, cannot override the express language of a statute. I agree with the submissions of [Husky] that if Parliament had intended to confer a broad public interest discretion, it would have done so in clear terms.”

Safety incidents aboard rig

CBC News requested the Henry Goodrich records following safety-related incidents on the rig in 2012.

After a 2.4-metre cylinder fell aboard the Henry Goodrich that August, operations shut down and the rig returned to a near-shore location for more than four months.

Offshore rig operators are required to report and investigate all incidents that either caused harm, or could have caused harm, to personnel or the environment.

The same rule applies to events that impair the function of equipment or systems critical to safety.

Those documents are forwarded to the C-NLOPB.

While Husky would not consent to the release of its incident reports related to the Henry Goodrich, another oil company did.

Suncor, the operator of the rig before Husky took over in mid-2012, did not object to the C-NLOPB’s decision to release incident reports from its time in charge.

Those records were provided to CBC News.

Ruling will not be appealed

The offshore petroleum board will not appeal the Federal Court ruling, but the regulator is saying little else at this point.

“The C-NLOPB is reviewing the implications of the decision,” spokesman Sean Kelly said in an emailed statement.

Husky, meanwhile, reiterated the same comments the company made nearly two years ago.

"As we mentioned at the time, Husky believes the documents are privileged information under the Atlantic Accords Act," spokesman Mel Duvall noted by email.

"This ruling helps all better understand the parameters of privileged information."

The Henry Goodrich is owned by Transocean Ltd., one of the world’s largest offshore drilling contractors.

According to the most recent C-NLOPB activity report, the Henry Goodrich is currently active in the Newfoundland offshore. The rig was drilling the Aster C-93A well for Husky as of Jan. 5.