Safety investigators looking into fire that closes down Deep Panuke gas well


HALIFAX – An electrical fire on the Deep Panuke natural gas platform off Nova Scotia is being investigated by the regulator for the offshore oil and gas industry.

The platform has stopped operations while Encana (TSX:ECA) and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board investigate the cause of the fire.

Board spokeswoman Kathleen Funke said a transformer caught fire on Sunday evening and a sprinkler system extinguished the blaze.

The platform operated by Dutch-based SBM Offshore had an electrical fire on Jan. 19, 2013, that also resulted in a temporary shutdown of its operations.

Safety reports obtained by The Canadian Press said a failure to conduct annual maintenance inspections was the underlying reason behind that fire.

The report was one of three that flagged electrical problems aboard Deep Panuke, located about 250 kilometres southeast of Halifax.

Funke said it is too early to determine whether there is any link between the fires and the earlier electrical problems.

A spokesman for Encana also said it is too early to comment on whether the latest fire was similar to the previous incident.

Jay Averill said no one was injured in the fire, there was no risk to the environment and no personnel were evacuated.

He said in an email the company is doing its own investigation to determine the exact cause of the fire.

“All system checks have been completed and, in consultation with the regulator, we have begun the start-up process to get Deep Panuke back on line,” he wrote.

Funke said the decision on when to bring the platform back into operation rests with Encana.

“However, the board can supersede this decision if our chief safety officer and CEO do not believe it is safe to operate. The board does not permit unsafe operations at any time,” she added in an email.

SBM couldn’t be reached for comment.

The investigation into the 2013 fire concluded that annual testing of electrical equipment using heat-detection equipment was needed.

Last year, a spokeswoman for Encana said the company had worked closely with SBM to “drive home the importance of prevention first.”

Other reports obtained under access to information say there were underlying quality assurance problems and in some instances installation problems with electrical equipment aboard Deep Panuke prior to the fire.

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