Shetland Times Column 22nd May 2015

This week Scotland’s most senior legal law officer is demanding access to black box data from the Sumburgh helicopter crash in 2013. 

The Super Puma flight crashed claiming the lives of four offshore workers. But the pilots union are objecting saying that publishing this information would have “an adverse impact on future investigations into civil aviation accidents, incidents and occurrences in general”.

The Lord Advocate is right. The fatal crash happened more than 2 years ago. The reason for the accident is understood. People died. So the procurator fiscal must decide whether there is a case to answer in the courts. The delay is agonising for the families who lost a family member. It is therefore in no ones interests to let this tragedy run on and on.

In the aftermath of the crash the oil industry, unions and staff representatives all argued for shorter helicopter journeys for offshore workers where a flight on a plane could be used. It is why Sumburgh and Scatsta are so important for these transfers. Baltasound makes sense too as it did in the past. Workers can be flown into Shetland on planes and then transfer to helicopters for the much shorter hop out to an oil rig east or west of the islands.

The recent decision by Shell to pull out of Scatsta in October is therefore wrong and potentially dangerous. Shell cannot explain why they supported an industry approach to reduce helicopter flight times following the Sumburgh crash. Now they apparently believe the opposite. Saving money is the driver for this decision. I am amazed the unions representing offshore staff are not jumping up and down.

Shell’s decision is worrying for Scatsta, Delting and Shetland. The airfield is a major employer. There is no doubt that losing Shell from the pan-industry air consortium will have repercussions for other oil companies using Scatsta. If 20% of the service is removed the overheads for operating the remaining 80% need to rise. There are suggestions the remaining companies have agreed on a new approach to continue operations at Scatsta. That would be good news but there is no public confirmation of this. How long is the new contract? What do the review clauses say?

The downturn in oil prices has pushed the attention on cutting costs. BPs profits for the most recent period fell 19%. Total, whose Laggan Tormore gas plant is well behind schedule, saw their profits fall by 22% in the same period. Yet oil analysts now suggest that the price of a barrel of oil will rise from the current mid $60s to over $80 within 2 years. But few predicated the fall we witnessed earlier in the year so who knows what to believe. But $100 billion of new projects across the globe have been cut or delayed by oil companies following the slide in crude oil prices. Research shows that 26 major projects in 13 countries have already been curtailed. We live in perpetually changing times. Shetland needs to be prepared.

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