1. Introductory Remarks
It is perfectly appropriate that my first major speech as the new Mines and Energy Minister is to the Newfoundland Ocean Industries Association.
Firstly, I want to commend the NOIA for the contribution its member companies make to the promotion and development of the oil and gas industry in this province. For more than a quarter of a century, your members have worked steadfastly to establish an industry here and you overcame some significant challenges. Sincerely, I say thank you.
It was just eight weeks ago that our Party was elected with a strong mandate to apply a new approach to governance in Newfoundland and Labrador – an approach spelled out in our election policy blueprint.
No industry figures more prominently in our blueprint than the offshore oil and gas industry. No industry offers more promise. No industry offers more opportunity. No industry has a greater potential to spur investment, job growth and diversification in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Yet, promise and potential are as pointless as good intentions if no one is prepared to capitalize on them.
That is why we made it crystal clear in our policy blueprint that doing a far better job of capitalizing on the potential in offshore oil and gas will be among our government’s highest priorities.
Now granted, oil and gas is not the only industry that offers tremendous promise for the future. My portfolio includes mining, hydro-power, agrifoods and forestry – all sectors with tremendous potential for investment and growth. These and other sectors, such as the fisheries, will demand and get a great deal of attention from our government throughout our mandate.
However, I tell you today that we will be very attentive to the opportunities associated with offshore oil and gas. Many of these opportunities will pass this way only once, and we cannot afford to let them slip through our fingers. In fact, we won’t.
2. The New Approach Means
The new approach means vision and vigilance: in other words, knowing what we want to achieve, and not resting until we get there. And what we want to achieve is straightforward. We want to gain fundamental and lasting benefits from offshore oil and gas development in order to turn things around for the better in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Is that really too much to expect?
Our obligation is to the people, and we realize that we will do a much better job of fulfilling that obligation to the people if we proceed with industry, labour, the federal government and our new federal minister, and other partners in the spirit of teamwork and cooperation.
Our view of cooperation is about building relationships.
We will work with industry and labour on their legitimate concerns. And we look forward to having the same level of interest and commitment from industry and labour when it comes to addressing the people’s legitimate concerns. That is cooperation.
The new approach is all about achieving the right balance among all interests that leaves all parties better off because we are all aware - right from the get-go - of what each of us wants to gain as we move forward in the further development of this critical industry.
Yes, we will proceed with vision and vigilance to achieve our objective, we will choose cooperation over confrontation, and we will also be open to any and all new ideas.
While it is true that at the end of the day the government will acknowledge responsibility for the decisions it takes, we intend to reach those decisions with the benefit of a great deal more input from our partners and others who know this industry. We cannot afford to exclude any good idea from consideration. We will be an open government that engages you in debate and decision-making.
I recognize there are many challenges that will need to be addressed as this government moves forward to set out its agenda. However, there are four immediate priorities that I want to talk to you about today in terms of how this government will approach oil and gas development.
We Need A New Discovery
First, we need a new discovery.
There is no shame in stating the obvious. Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose have been godsends. Hebron - Ben Nevis also holds promise for the years ahead. New territory awaits exploratory work in the Laurentian sub-basin. And a great deal more offshore territory beckons to those who are searching for the next lucrative discovery.
It is in Newfoundland and Labrador’s best interest to ensure the resources of these waters are identified. During the course of our mandate, we will focus a great deal more effort on promoting exploratory work in our offshore.
We will encourage exploratory work by increasing regulatory efficiency to the maximum extent possible without sacrificing our commitment to safety, benefits and the environment. We will achieve a better balance.
I am encouraged by the cooperative efforts, such as the Energy Roundtable, that are already underway. As long as the Energy Roundtable remains focused on real issues and does not stray off into fanciful and divisive discussions – such as the call for a single east coast regulatory board – then it will have the support of our government.
The Next Development
As important as it is to promote exploration through increased cooperation and greater regulatory efficiency, these efforts must be accompanied by significant new initiatives to bring the resources to market.
To keep the momentum going in our oil and gas industry, we need the next development to proceed as soon as possible.
And the people of the province must be significant beneficiaries of any new developments.
Having said that, we are not insensitive to risk and our expectations are not unreasonable. We appreciate that we have to be competitive in order to attract new investment to our offshore.
To that end, we are prepared to sit down with all the players in this industry to determine what everyone can bring to the table in order to see a project move forward and generate returns. We are open to innovative approaches and creative solutions in order to advance offshore developments. However, the principal beneficiaries must be the people of the province.
The Potential of Natural Gas
In terms of natural gas resources, my opinion today is - the potential here is self-evident.
The discovered resource estimates are significant - there’s 4.2 trillion cubic feet discovered on the Labrador shelf; another 5.6 trillion cubic feet discovered on the Grand Banks.
Current estimates put the total potential in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore at approximately 60 to 70 trillion cubic feet.
It is obvious the development of natural gas can play a very integral role in the future development in this province and it is the logical next step from where the industry is today.
Previous drilling programs have focused primarily on the exploration for crude oil. Further drilling programs could identify additional natural gas resources, provide clearer information on existing resources and help facilitate future development.
We want our natural gas resources developed. And we are open to all ideas and to the advances in technology that can accomplish this for the benefit of all stakeholders, including the province.
According to the Geological Survey of Canada, the Laurentian Sub-basin is one area that could contain 8 to 9 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas. I am keen to see a major discovery here since it has the potential to get this province into the natural gas market sooner rather than later.
As indicated, the Grand Banks also offers much potential. Yet we know there are challenges associated with getting this natural gas to market. However, I am encouraged by the new technology that is being developed. Being innovative and being open to these advances can certainly help all of us as we work co-operatively to get this resource developed for the benefit of the industry and indeed, the people of this province.
Collectively, we have proven with the development of the Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose oil projects that the challenges of our offshore can be overcome and that profitable projects can be developed. It will require that all interested parties work to ensure that natural gas development is timely, profitable and provides significant benefits to the Province.
This Government appreciates that providing companies with jurisdictional certainty is key to attracting investment.
NL/PQ Maritime Boundary
As a result of the recent arbitration between Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, we now have a maritime boundary to separate the two offshore areas. It has been given the effect of law, and is binding on the two provinces and the federal government.
Our work is far from complete. In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, there is currently only one maritime boundary: a small portion of the line that separates the Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia offshore areas.
There is a need to establish a line in respect of the remainder of the Gulf adjacent to our shores. This is often referred to as a Newfoundland and Labrador/Quebec maritime boundary.
This government will approach this issue from a position that is non-confrontational.
We are finalizing our assessment as to where we want that boundary. We are hopeful that this matter can be resolved through respectful negotiations with the federal government and Quebec, and that will be our focus in the first instance.
Canada/France Transboundary Agreement
Boundaries, however, create another challenge. That challenge is how to develop discoveries that straddle boundaries. The lack of up-front ground rules creates uncertainty for companies and governments.
Over the past four years, Canada and France have been attempting to conclude an agreement to deal with the exploration and development of transboundary petroleum fields. This is a good initiative and significant progress has been made.
We will take time to ensure the resolution is in the best interests of the Province. While we are supportive of efforts to facilitate the development of transboundary discoveries in a predictable and fair manner, we will never be indifferent to our interests as we move forward.
I have outlined for you today some of the key issues my department are dealing with on an ongoing basis and ones that I assure you are an important part of the government’s agenda.
I would be remiss if I did not make any reference to the Atlantic Accord. It is clearly one of the most challenging and complex issues this government will be dealing with in the early days of our mandate.
Our goal on this is simple - we want to ensure the Accord lives up to its intent. That is that Newfoundland and Labrador is the principal beneficiary of the developing oil and gas industry in this province. While this will be the topic of discussion between the province and the federal government as we build our new relationship with Ottawa, I certainly look to you - the industry - to be supportive and to be champions of our position. If we work together, we can certainly have a better chance of success.
On a personal note, I am very excited about being in this portfolio. I know there are opportunities here that can be moved forward for the benefit of the entire province. Over the next weeks and months, this government will firmly establish its priorities and I can assure you we will be aggressively pursuing them. It is a new approach.
I look forward to working with your association and your members in advancing our agenda.