by Graham Chandler

    Restoring Halifax Roots

    With its recent EnCana Corporation contract, Cougar Helicopters has set itself up as Halifax’s prime all-weather offshore helicopter operator – the city of its roots

    “We are back there again now with a commitment for the long term.” Speaking from his office in St. John’s, Newfoundland, these are the words of Hank Williams, General Manager, Canada East for Cougar Helicopters Inc. He’s referring to the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the company started its East Coast operations for the oil and gas industry back in 1984.

    EnCana Corporation will complete its Deep Panuke offshore drilling program this year, as well as crank up its subsea program to install the flowlines and umbilicals connecting four production wells—3500 metres below the seafloor—and the disposal well to the offshore production facility. The pipeline will take the gas production, which is now expected in 2011, to shore facilities at Golboro, Nova Scotia. It all points to a very busy flight schedule for Cougar Helicopters out of Halifax,and it’s what has prompted them to return to the city.

    EnCana says it is pleased to be working with Cougar again. “Cougar has a long history providing service for EnCana in Nova Scotia,” says Lori MacLean, a spokesperson for EnCana in Halifax. “Cougar provided helicopter services on the Copan project in the 1990s (Cohasset-Panuke, Canada’s first offshore oil project which produced from 1992-1999) and through a period of exploratory drilling about a decade ago.”

    The use of helicopters offers great advantages. “It takes about 45 minutes to fly to the Deep Panuke site via helicopter versus a 10-12 hour ride by supply boat,” says MacLean. To support the drilling program currently underway, she says, they expect three or more flights per week. The six-month drilling program is set to wrap up about mid-year. Ongoing support work will follow once the production facility is producing natural gas for market.

    In committing to the Halifax-based project, Cougar has dedicated one Sikorsky S92 helicopter and a S76 model to be used when needed. The company will, initially, be leasing heliport facilities there, but “we are in the planning process to turn sod on our own facility in the later spring,” says Williams. “We’re looking at a 22,000 sq ft hangar, what we call a two-bay facility, but can accommodate future expansion.” He says it will cost four to five million dollars. “This facility will house our passenger handling and maintenance facilities.”

    The new hangar is in anticipation of increased Nova Scotia opportunities for Cougar. “Currently in Newfoundland, we are operating four 92s and one S61, so we have five heavy aircraft here and the two in Nova Scotia. So our East Coast presence is really strong. In 1997 we had the Hibernia contract which allowed us to set up here in Newfoundland. Now we have four customers—three long- term and also companies like ConocoPhillips and Chevron which do sporadic exploration wells.

    “Build it and they will come,” says Williams, referring to the planned Halifax facility. “There are some exploration companies like BEPCO [of Halifax] and Canadian Superior that own parcels of land in Nova Scotia, and they have stated they will be doing some exploration drilling in the next year or so.” As well, he adds they will be ready should any work that is currently being performed in Halifax become availble through a Request for Proposal process.

    Strong activity in Newfoundland is expected to continue, too. “The Hebron Ben Nevis project has been approved,” says Williams. “That’s the fourth long- term production project here that will require helicopter services. And Chevron is looking at some exploration work in the Orphan Basin soon, and we will be providing services to them as well”.

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