Comment: Oil giants face helicopter dilemma

Erikka Askeland. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Erikka Askeland. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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AS A book of condolence was opened in the Kirk of St Nicholas in Aberdeen to commemorate the four lives lost in Friday’s helicopter crash, industry leaders met to decide how to ensure business in the North Sea oil and gas fields will continue.

Almost half of the choppers that ferry hundreds of workers back and forth to UK North Sea installations each day have been grounded pending investigation into what caused the Super Puma to ditch into the sea just two miles short of its landing pad in Shetland.

The milder summer months are a good time to do routine maintenance of offshore platforms. Much of this will have to be slowed or put on hold as oil firms figure our how to get workers there and back again safely.

It is unlikely that Super Pumas will be scrapped altogether despite calls from some workers to see them banned from the fleet. But until the black box is recovered and the cause of the fatal crash found, North Sea explorers are expected to take a number of actions in the meantime. It is not the first time the industry has been forced to ground aircraft. CHC, the operator of the crashed helicopter, only brought back into service last month a different type of Super Puma, the EC225, involved in two recent non-fatal ditchings.

There were a number of options being discussed by industry executives yesterday. Some staff will be probably be flown to Norway to catch a lift on non-grounded helicopters with spare capacity. Ships and controversial “basket transfers” might also be an option, but shifting people from a boat on to a rig is tricky in rough weather.

Philippe Guys, the UK boss of exploration and production for Total, operator of the rig the workers were flying from on Friday, said some platform activity may have to be delayed. And what does get done will be more expensive to complete. But he insisted – and rightly, too – that the lives of the workforce were the top priority.

High speed train team on the wrong tracks

The Institute of Directors has come out against the £50 billion HS2 project, calling it a “grand folly”. The body says enthusiasm amongst its membership for the project has waned. Even those in the north, who are expected to benefit most, seem to have gone off the idea.

In the face of shifting public opinion, the people behind the plan have taken a different tack in their argument for HS2. Before, it was the benefit of reduced travel time. But now the Department for Transport warns that we will hit “crunch capacity” by mid-2020s without it – even if the money was spent on existing line upgrades.

But as the IoD is usually big fan of infrastructure investment, HS2 backers clearly have a great deal of work to do to win back confidence.