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September 12, 2007

Skilled Labour

Hebron project could lure some Alberta workers back to Newfoundland

But staffing offshore oil project job still presents a challenge

Construction of Newfoundland’s Hebron offshore oil project will benefit Atlantic provinces construction but how will the worker demand be met, wonders a Construction Sector Council official.

“It is really good news for the construction industry but the challenge is that a chunk of the East Coast construction workforce is in Alberta in places like Fort McMurray,” explains George Gritziotis, CSC executive director.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government recently approved a tentative deal to develop the $5-billion Hebron project. The province will invest $110 million to secure a 4.9 per cent equity stake in the project. Engineering work will begin in the next 18 months and construction is to begin by 2010.

“There are some estimates that approximately 50 per cent of the Atlantic provinces’ construction workforce is from Newfoundland and many of them are in Alberta,” says Gritziotis.

The allure of money making opportunities in Alberta’s oil sands could be counterbalanced, for some East Coast workers, since they would back in their home provinces with ongoing employment on the Hebron project, believes Gritziotis.

“There is an opportunity here for the workers in Alberta to come back home to work,” says Gritziotis.

Hebron is located about 350 km southeast of St. John’s in the Jeanne d’Arc Basin. There are industry estimates that it could be more valuable than Newfoundland’s three current offshore oil operations combined.

Geroge Gritziotis

"There is a great opportunity to replenish the Newfoundland workforce."

Geroge Gritziotis

CSC

The project will include construction of an enormous production platform which sits on the ocean floor. Hebron is similar in design to the current Hibernia platform.

“There is a great opportunity to replenish the Newfoundland workforce with new apprentices, in anticipation of this project. We do not want to be just responding to peak activity,” says Gritziotis. “Between now and when the project begins, how do we improve the training infrastructure and capacity for workers?”

During peak construction of the Hibernia oil platform in 1995, roughly 5,800 people were employed on the project. Approximately 3,500 of these workers lived in accommodations built on the site. Hibernia was the province’s first offshore oil platform

To build Hibernia a world class dry-dock and fabrication facility were constructed. The project site included the largest rebar shop in North America, an onshore concrete batch plant, permanent office building, 50-metre high assembly hall and paint, pipe, cutting and carpentry shops.

Early total revenue estimates from Hebron could exceed $16 billion over the 25-year span of the project. Technical challenges facing the project are dealing with high-sulphur, heavy oil and operating in Iceberg Alley.

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