Nfld. & Labrador

Wells renews call for N.L. offshore safety agency

The head of an inquiry into offshore helicopter safety in Newfoundland and Labrador has renewed his call for the establishment an independent agency to regulate offshore safety.
Commissioner Robert Wells says an independent and powerful regulator is needed to enforce safety in Newfoundland's offshore oil industry. ((CBC))

The head of an inquiry into offshore helicopter safety in Newfoundland and Labrador has renewed his call for the establishment an independent agency to regulate offshore safety.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board currently regulates offshore safety.

"In the last 25 years, [the C-NLOPB] haven't had a really detailed mandate of what the [federal and provincial] governments expect of them in safety," Wells told CBC news Monday.

Wells, a retired Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Judge, was appointed to lead the inquiry months after a helicopter crashed into the ocean east of St. John's killing all but one of the 18 people aboard, on March 12, 2009.

The new call for an independent safety agency was one of four recommendations Commissioner Wells made in his final report of the Inquiry into offshore helicopter safety released Monday.

Phase II of inquiry over

The report ends the second, and final, phase of the inquiry.

The new recommendations, which Wells promised he would release after reviewing the Transportation Safety Board's  Feb. 10 report on its investigation into the crash, build on the recommendations Wells made in an earlier report released last November.

In the latest report, Wells endorses the TSB's calls for higher performance standards for helicopters and survival flight suits.

He also recommended that Air Service Bulletins – which recommend how helicopter should be maintained – should be posted on the websites of helicopter operators.

Bodies that certify helicopters for use in Canada, the U.S. and Europe issue Air Service Bulletins.

Wells also called on Transport Canada to adopt and act on the four recommendations of the Transportation Safety Board.

The TSB's report released Feb. 10, 20111 recommended helicopters must:

  • Have a main gearbox able to run without oil for 30 minutes.
  • Not fly in rough conditions.
  • Have emergency breathing equipment on all flights where survival suits are worn.
  • Have an emergency flotation system to keep a chopper afloat long enough to evacuate safely.

NDP backs Wells call

Provincial NDP leader Lorraine Michael is a critic of how the offshore oil industry is regulated.

She backed Wells' call for an independent safety agency.

"I do hope that the two levels of government are now going to act and I am not happy with the slow dragging of feet with the independent agency that Justice Wells is calling for," she said.

Newfoundland and Labrador's government has already endorsed the idea of establishing a new, independent, safety agency to regulate offshore safety.

But the federal government, which must also support the idea, hasn't committed to creating a new agency.