ThoughtStream: Offshore safety demands continuous focus

Scott Tessier

February 1, 2014

As the regulator for the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil and gas industry, it should come as no surprise that everything we do at the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB) is seen through the lens of the 1982 Ocean Ranger disaster, the 1985 Universal helicopter crash, and the crash of Cougar 491 in 2009. The Piper Alpha disaster and the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico were also formative events in the world of offshore safety.

The ensuing investigations and inquiries into these events led to sweeping changes in the industry. It is truly a global industry and we are constantly reminded of the risks and consequences associated with operating in a harsh environment. It is important that we share information, learn from each other, and maintain continuous focus on improving offshore safety.

Last fall, our Chief Safety Officer, Daniel Chicoyne, and I attended the International Regulators Forum (IRF) conference and annual general meeting in Australia. We each gave a presentation to an attentive audience at the conference about improvements to offshore helicopter safety and Canada’s broader regulatory regime.

The IRF is comprised of offshore regulators from Canada, the U.S., UK, Norway, Australia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Denmark, Brazil and Mexico. It provides a forum to collectively promote safety in the upstream offshore oil and gas sector through collaboration and information sharing.

Following the IRF meeting, the CSO and I identified five offshore safety areas of current concern in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore, beyond helicopter passenger safety.

The first is training and competency. The demand for drilling installations is high and it appears that installations may be getting built faster than the time it takes to build competency among the workforce to operate a new rig. Operators are hiring new rig workers and providing training, but many experienced rig workers are retiring, so there is a risk of less mentoring to ensure new workers attain competency. A decline in the number of experienced offshore workers demands a higher level of training among those who remain.

The second area is a disturbing trend in the number of dropped objects and near misses, which, of course, means an increase in the potential for serious injury, or death. In many ways, this problem speaks to the need for companies to step up efforts to improve safety culture and develop more robust programs.

A third issue is the fact that our offshore facilities are aging, which creates a need for greater attention to preventative maintenance, inspection and testing, and corrective maintenance to ensure continued asset integrity. Aging facilities can pose increased risks if preventative maintenance is not conducted regularly and if corrective maintenance is not attended to in a prompt manner.

The fourth area is the need for improved information sharing on things like incidents and accidents, including near misses. Operators and workers need to learn from one another to prevent making similar mistakes that can lead to serious injuries, or death. Safety conferences and forums are useful in this regard, but more is needed. The industry needs to find ways to better share information openly and regularly in the interest of preventing incidents and injury.

The fifth issue is the need for global standards. If operators want to move people and installations from region to region, there should be standards for similar known and accepted qualifications and/or equivalency.

Offshore safety is always the top priority of the C-NLOPB. Moving forward, the C-NLOPB will increase our focus on these issues and continue to expect improvements from the industry.

Scott Tessier, chair and CEO, Canada- Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum board. Mr. Tessier was born and raised in St. John’s and holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Memorial University of Newfoundland. Prior to his appointment in February 2013, he was a senior advisor for legislative and regulatory affairs with Chevron Canada in Calgary, Alberta.