Nfld. & Labrador

Offshore safe enough in C-NLOPB's hands for now: natural resources minister

Siobhan Coady says offshore safety won't be handed over to an independent regulator any time soon, despite exploration projects drifting farther and farther from shore.

Siobhan Coady says offshore safety won't be handed over to an independent regulator any time soon

Proposed offshore development projects are a long way from land, leading to discussion in the House of Assembly on Tuesday about whether enough has been done to stave off danger to workers flying to and from rigs. (Ted DIllon/CBC)

As concerns about safety in Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore sector are again being raised at Confederation Building, the province's natural resources minister says the industry is in good hands.

In the House of Assembly on Tuesday, Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie pressed Siobhan Coady over offshore safety protocol, asking whether safety measures are sufficiently robust in the hands of its current regulator — one often criticized for its lack of authority over oil companies and how they run their rigs.

As petroleum exploration, such as the Bay du Nord development project, drifts farther from shore, there may be additional regulations put in place, Coady said. But for now, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board's safety division will suffice, she added.

"As the industry grows, there may be a point in time where we need to consider more, or a separate regulator, so that will be monitored." Coady said.

"Right now the safety division is completely autonomous, has a separate budget, [and] its decisions are paramount. And I can tell you they take their work very seriously."

Coady cited the 29 recommendations put forward in 2011 following an inquiry into the Cougar helicopter crash, which killed 17 offshore workers in 2009.

The tragedy that killed 17 offshore workers is still fuelling conversation about the industry's safety regulations. (Submitted by Transportation Safety Board)

She said all of those recommendations have been implemented, except for one, which said government should create an independent regulator to oversee the industry.

Instead, the C-NLOPB created its own safety division. Coady stressed inquiry commissioner Robert Wells was satisfied with that decision.

"That was enacted. That has taken place," she said. "We have a gentleman down there who is responsible for that division, who is autonomous from the board, who is able to speak to the board."

Other recommendations unheeded

Tuesday also marked 10 years since Cougar Flight 491 plunged into the Atlantic on its way to the Hibernia platform and the SeaRose FPSO.

A separate inquiry into the cause of that crash generated several recommendations to ensure the tragedy was never repeated. 

Some of those haven't been followed, said Transportation Safety Board of Canada chair Kathy Fox, including a recommendation to increase the 30-minute minimum, a rule that allows an aircraft to be certified if it's able to stay in the air for at least half an hour after a critical safety issue occurs.

Kathy Fox, chair of the Transportation Safety Board, says recommendations they made following the crash haven't been followed. (CBC)

While safety has improved overall since the 2009 tragedy, Fox said, those unheeded recommendations are crucial in the face of development at longer distances from land.

The industry, and where it takes root, is "definitely expanding, and it's going far beyond 30 minutes from shore," Fox said.

"That is one of the reasons why one of our four recommendations was to reassess that 30-minute provision," she said. 

"We believe that with current technology, it may be feasible, and economically viable, to extend that 30-minute provision to longer."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Katie Breen


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