Friday, November 29, 2013

INJECTING A LITTLE REALITY INTO THE RUN DRY DISCUSSION


Helicopters are an essential part of offshore oil and gas industry operations.

Weather conditions have made drilling and extraction of oil hazardous. Oil companies have to be innovative. They push the edges of technology to ensure safety and efficiency. In this environment, the transportation of personal to and from the drill rigs and oil producing platforms is a major logistical challenge. The most efficient mode of transport the volumes of people involved is the helicopter. 

I have to give credit to whoever was responsible for the Super Puma EC225 helicopter tour.

Eurocopter charmed the media this week. The company brought one of it’s EC225 over to the province from Europe to show it off as a possible replacement for the Sikorsky S-92 which is currently used by Cougar to ferry workers to offshore oil installations.

On top of the earned media generated by providing the media and industry officials with demonstrations of their chopper, the people’s house was abuzz with demands that the Provincial Government demand that only aircraft with 30-minute run dry capability be permitted to carry workers offshore.

The Liberals and the fledgling NDP peppered the Dunderdale Government with questions regarding the administration’s policy towards the issue. Both parties are insisting that the government demand that the offshore regulator enforce the run dry requirement on operators.

The contract to provide helicopter services for the offshore is up for grabs.

A Cougar operated S-92 ferrying workers to the NL Offshore crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing all but one passenger. While a number of issues were cited for the causes of the tragedy, the catastrophic failure of the gearbox and the lack of a run dry capacity is perceived by many in this province as the reason for the deaths.

As P&P has reported in the past, companies and pilots are taking no chances and the challenges of operating in the North Atlantic are not relegated to our offshore.

The EC225 has had its share of accidents. Journalists, regulatory agencies, operators, politicians and the public should be watching how the offshore helicopter issue plays out in the North Sea before jumping to conclusions about the Eurocopter.

In the summer of 2012 Shell signaled that they were re reconsidering renewing a contract with Bond Offshore Helicopters because “it was not able to achieve sufficient assurance about Bond's operations.”

Bond had temporarily suspended helicopter flights after one of its’ Super Pumas ditched in the North Sea and air accident investigators  found a cracked shaft in the main gearbox of the EC 225 Super Puma helicopter. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch said that a cracked shaft in the gearbox of the EC 225  was found near a manufacturing weld.  The report said: "The crew of the helicopter carried out a controlled ditching following indications of a failure of the main gearbox (MGB) lubrication system and, subsequently, a warning indicating failure of the emergency lubrication system." So, not only did the MGB fail but the back-up lubrication system failed as well. So much for a run dry or run dry equivalent!

In February 2009, a Super Puma EC225,  ditched in fog a short distance from a BP oil platform 125 miles (200km) east of Aberdeen. In April 2009, a Puma suffered a catastrophic gearbox failure and crashed  killing all 16 people on board.

Politicians need to be honest in this debate and let the politics of fear take a second seat to logic. There will always be a risk. There is no such thing zero likelihood of something going wrong while transporting people by sea, or air to the offshore.

Everyone needs to remember the reality of the environmental and weather conditions in the Newfoundland offshore oil and gas industry

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