Monday, 27 July 2020


True to form, Premier Dwight Ball and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady have joined NOIA in a new crusade to have the Government of Canada ante up for a “neo-PIP” (Petroleum Incentive Program). NOIA not only wants the oil industry to receive exploration funding, they want the “beleaguered” Companies to get operating assistance, too. This is not as surprising as it is aggravating. We are talking about a group of petty, quick-buck, short-sighted manufacturer’s agents anyway; the Ball Government aligns perfectly with their thinking.

Many “private-enterprisers”, not just oil companies, are wont to pump their chests about the capital which they put at risk; until there is an economic hiccup — or pandemic — that transforms them into beggars. Problem is, when the distress passes, they expect to be left alone to conduct “private” business unhindered, the notion of payback quickly forgotten.

While more a small collection of projects than an industry, the NL offshore is still very important — those absolute minimum capital investments which are made here, and the relatively well-paying jobs, too. But on what basis should we give them a handout when most of the construction jobs they create are still heading elsewhere?

Don’t forget, operators in the Newfoundland offshore have done very well these past few decades. Big profits have been made, but you don’t hear any reference to that fact.  

People looking across Conception Bay today will spy the Terra Nova Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel. Hanging around Bell Island, it awaits instruction to head somewhere for a planned makeover. Is she heading to Bull Arm and to the skilled hands of Newfoundland tradespeople? No, no, no — to Spain. That was, at least, until COVID struck.

Why not Bull Arm? Good question. Let’s examine this and the larger issue.

Savvy businesspeople know to press their advantage when a weak government is over a barrel, and the political smell of desperation is all about. Think “Bay du Nord” and “West White Rose”.

Where was NOIA on the West White Rose deal when Husky Energy forced the Ball Government to drop the requirement of retractable gates to facilitate fast and easy entry/exit for large offshore platforms — negotiated in the original deal — which would have allowed Long Harbour, potentially one of the world’s best deep water construction sites, to become an easy destination for international work?

Then there’s Norway’s Equinor on the Bay du Nord agreement, the place which NOIA holds up as a model of company incentive generosity. The Company gave the Ball Government nothing but an empty Press Release.

Where was NOIA when Equinor wrung most of the potential local construction jobs from that project, leaving only the subseawork and the anchor chain assemblies — the latter of the unskilled work variety? The clods were too busy catching the deep-fried shrimp falling off the reception table at the celebration to think about tomorrow’s lunch.

Let me take you back to a 24 September 2018 post entitled Bay du Nord: Turning Good News Into Disbelief. The post was written by a guest writer, an anonymous person whose long career in the industry qualified him to address the subject. Consider these excerpts:

“The Government promises “4 million person hours in pre-development and development phases. Person years of work on these projects is measured by a formula representing the average per “tonne”. With the complex “topsides” constructed elsewhere, the remaining mix of work simply won’t warrant the same equation. In other words, the person years/hours of work on mooring/anchoring systems is far less per tonne than on topsides infrastructure.

“Note that the Government’s press release states that the “fabrication of the hull, turret, flowlines, umbilical’s, and other components will be international. That leaves only the mooring/anchoring and subsea systems. Little wonder person years of work have been converted to “person hours””. 

NOIA wants the Feds to fund this paltry amount of work with a Bay du Nord bailout and funding for other projects, too.

Which brings us back to the Terra Nova FPSO, lingering off Bell Island.
Terra Nova FPSO (Photo Credit: Debbie Preston, Twitter) 

The vessel always signified corporate stupidity, its owners regretting, almost from the moment it was commissioned, that they got caught in the grip of accountants, for whom labour and productivity issues — ostensibly the fault of the locals (and some of them were, but not all) — outweighed the demanding and unrelenting realities of the North Atlantic, not to mention the commercial advantages that a virtually faultless concrete Gravity Base Structure gave Hibernia.

Today, only corporate arrogance on the part of Suncor (the operator) allows the Terra Nova’s rusting hulk to wave to the people of the Capital City and to the vast majority of the residents on the Avalon. As to its new destination? It is as agood as a direct message: you know what you can do with your Atlantic Accord!

That would not hurt at all, except that our own Provincial Government and the dolts at NOIA are content to be supplicants to those skillful players, while still stoking the fear that if the Feds don’t ante up, the Companies will go elsewhere.

Where have we heard that one before?

Nearly 40 years later, it isn’t hard to figure out where the drag came for obtaining the Atlantic Accord in the first place. Let me tell you: as much as we blame them, it wasn’t all the fault of the Federal Liberals.

But back to the matter of jobs and that rusting hulk off Bell Island…

Who remembers the days when fabrication work was an activity actually performed in Bull Arm?

I will wager that the people who worked on the Terra Nova FPSO do. In fact, after 20 years, they will still be able to locate the mooring points that held the ship. Yes, they are still in place!

Those workers will recall, too, that the hull entered Bull Arm an empty tanker, that some of the modules were constructed there: the accommodations module, the gas injections assembly, other assemblies consisting of compressors, pumps, the flare boom, and possibly more – 60% of the topsides modules, altogether, but the remaining 40% also came to Bull Arm to be lifted and installed. All of this wprk, and the final hookup on the deck of the FPSO, represented a huge scope of work; a lot of good – skilled – jobs.

Against this background, on what basis should this work – and more - not be performed on the Terra Nova FPSO — again? Newfoundlanders could do it 20 years ago, but not today?

Has the Premier ever picked up the phone to the President of Suncor and asked him to sit around the Cabinet Table — with the unions in tow — telling him we want this work for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians? If he has, he has never said a word publicly. But he had no problem sending a letter to the Prime Minister for a handout, offering not even to lift a finger to do the job for which he was elected as Premier.

Today, the FPSO projects the image of a neglected rust heap of a sunset industry. Having pumped oil for 20 years, neither owners, Suncor, nor its partners, the Newfoundland Government and NOIA, nor the unions that represent the Building Trades, as much as mention Bull Arm as a place where this production facility, and ALL — yes, ALL — of its modules can be rebuilt and put back into service.

Rather than either the Government or NOIA leading the charge to wrestle with Suncor, and with the principles of the Atlantic Accord forgotten, our workers are left to consider the prospect of preparing mooring chains, should Bay du Nord ever go ahead.

Content with scraps from the table, the Provincial Government, NOIA and the trade union leadership should all have their collective asses kicked to kingdom come!

Yes, I hear the big “BUT” from the apologists at NOIA — the hull will have to go on drydock, and that can’t be done at Bull Arm. So what? The hull wasn’t built there in the first place.
Having found its way to Bull Arm, likely we can find a Newfoundland Captain capable of making a round trip this time!   

If the Owners want “public” money, let them earn it.

If Newfoundland’s Representative in the Federal Cabinet, Seamus O’Regan, “steps up”,  to use NOIA’s phrase, it should be for local unemployed tradespeople and other workers whose international unions have gotten them or who just see them as an extension of  Alberta’s workforce anyway.

In place of the evasions that have characterized his response to NOIA, O’Regan should be telling the oil industry that Canada supports “Canadian” jobs.

One more thing. If NOIA was a real industry association, the public would be hearing about meetings with international trades union bosses, discussions of ways to enhance productivity, conversations around how Newfoundland tradespeople can get access to the largest amount of work possible — work measured in years, not in hours — and any other issue that helps those jobs to be performed here; not in Spain, not in Norway and not in South Korea.

No wonder that tired, rusting hulk is moored off Bell Island.

Rust is the perfect emblem of the current political leadership of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Is John Abbott or Andrew Furey ready to make that call to the President of Suncor?

Or, like Dwight Ball, will they become letter writers, too?