Helicopter Crash Risks Delaying Work at North Sea Oil Platforms

Work at oil fields in the North Sea will be delayed following the suspension of helicopter services after a crash that killed four workers.

An AS332L2 Super Puma was transporting workers from Total SA’s Borgsten Dolphin platform when it ditched near the Shetland Islands on Aug. 23. After the crash, operators grounded four models of helicopter, taking about half the fleet servicing the North Sea out of action.

“We obviously can’t move people around at the moment as easily as would normally be the case,” Brian O’Neill, a spokesman for Total SA in the U.K., said yesterday in an e-mail. “We are therefore looking at deferring certain non-essential or low priority work programs in order to limit the number of people we need to move.”

The Helicopter Safety Steering Group is meeting today to decide what steps should be taken next.

“The immediate knock-on effects” of the suspension “are delays and flight backlogs with considerable inconvenience to the workforce and their families, and potential adverse effects on offshore activities,” the Sumburgh Helicopter Accident Response group said in a press release today.

BP Plc is looking to reduce non-essential activity to cut the number of people offshore and may use marine vessels to transport workers, Matt Taylor, a company spokesman, said by phone. It’s also trying to secure additional Sikorsky helicopters, he said.

Maintenance, Leave

Maintenance being carried out in the North Sea during the summer months may be extended as companies try to find alternatives for getting workers home. Health and safety regulations require offshore employees to work no more than 21 days at sea, Taylor said.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc said it mainly uses the S92 Sikorsky helicopters for transferring workers and is “closely monitoring” developments. BG Group Plc is also monitoring the situation. Shell will consider any changes to “operational plans as necessary,” it said in an e-mailed statement.

Helicopter accidents have raised concerns over safety with unions.The Super Puma plunged into the sea carrying 16 oil workers and two crew members.

The cause of the crash is yet unknown as the aircraft’s black box hasn’t been found and it is unclear how long the suspension will last, an official at CHC said, declining to be named because she’s not authorized to talk publicly about the matter.

The accident may have been due to weather conditions, human error or mechanical failure, CHC said in a statement on Aug. 26.

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