03/08/2012 03:25 EST | Updated 05/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Minister questions adding more regulators for offshore

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is stressing the importance of offshore safety, while questioning whether the number of regulators needs to be increased.

Oliver made the comments today in response to questions about Ottawa’s support for the creation of an independent safety regulator to oversee the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore.

“We want to make sure that any regulatory change actually enhances the safety, and doesn’t make for duplication and more diffuse responsibility,” Oliver told CBC’s St. John’s Morning Show.

“So we’re talking to the province about that issue, there are a number of ways of approaching it, and we haven’t come to ground on it yet.”

In his report into the Cougar helicopter crash that killed 17 people in 2009, retired judge Robert Wells recommended that the creation of a separate and independent safety regulator for the offshore.

Safety currently falls under the umbrella of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB).

Wells’s other 28 recommendations, made in late 2010, were all accepted in full or in principle.

But the province and the feds must take action to put the 29th and final one — the new safety regime — in place.

Oliver said discussions are still underway with the province on the matter.

“What we’re trying to do is actually reduce the number of regulators because we think that’s more efficient,” Oliver said.

“It enhances environmental protection and worker safety. When there’s a suggestion made that we should increase the number of regulators, we’ve got to pause and consider whether that achieves the objective that you want to achieve in the best possible way.”

Later in the day, in a speech delivered to the oil and gas industry group NOIA, Oliver gave a vote of confidence to the C-NLOPB.

"We all know that the offshore can be a challenging place,” Oliver said, according to the prepared text of his speech. “The safety of the men and women who work there must be and always will be our first concern.

"That is why Canada's offshore installations and the equipment and training required to operate them must meet strict regulatory standards that are among the highest in the world — and the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board provides the strong, independent regulation we need to ensure Canada's standards always meet that test."

In a scrum with reporters after that speech, Oliver referenced an alternative solution that has previously been floated — the creation of a safety division within the C-NLOPB.

Oliver said he would be meeting with Premier Kathy Dunderdale later in the afternoon.

He said no final decisions have been made.