Worries about the idled Come By Chance oil refinery could be over, as the facility has been bought by United States-based private equity firm Cresta Fund Management, a union representative confirmed on Tuesday.
The firm — which bought a majority share in the refining side of the plant — plans to convert the refinery to make renewable aviation fuel and diesel from used cooking oil, corn oil and animal fat.
United Steelworkers Local 9316 president Glenn Nolan told CBC News his union represents 335 workers at the refinery and says the deal will likely save hundreds of jobs, but not all. If no deal was found, the facility faced permanent closure.
"This is great news, because at the end of the day there was nobody else out there as far as we heard. It would have shut down," Nolan said.
"We have something now in our province and that's good news for the workers."
In an emailed statement to CBC News, Energy Minister Andrew Parsons said the sale is an agreement in principle between owners North Atlantic Refining Limited Partnership and Cresta.
Parsons said the facility is an important asset for the province.
"Our government has, and will continue to do everything we can to work with all stakeholders to secure its long-term future," he said.
Nolan said there was a round of applause from workers as the announcement was made during a meeting on Tuesday. He said he doesn't know how much the deal is worth or how much of a share Cresta owns.
"The workers are very excited and there's a lot of calls from workers on lay off, so hopefully it's an opportunity for them," he said.
"There's a lot of optimism out there right now. Before a lot of people were pretty down. This is something new and it'll give an opportunity for employment for a long time. This is the future."
CBC News has requested an interview with Cresta Fund Management.
The new facility is expected to produce 14,000 barrels of renewable fuel per day by mid-2022, said Nolan, which is less than the facility's previous production rate of 130,000 barrels of fossil fuel per day.
Nolan said he expects more than 200 people will work at the repurposed refinery initially. He said more could find work through further phases, as the refinery has potential to grow.
"It will be a different type of facility. It will be a smaller facility. A lot of units won't be running," he said.
"The first phase, it will be a couple of hundred of jobs, that's not counting the engineering and the refit that they would have to do on the maintenance side to change it over from fossil fuel to renewable."
The Come By Chance facility was owned North Atlantic Refinery Limited. North Atlantic had been looking for a new owner since last year, when a purchase agreement with Irving Oil fell through.
In January, the provincial government announced $16.6 million in public money for North Atlantic Refinery to keep the plant open in idle mode, which kept some employees working while owners searched for a buyer.
"The government did a lot of hard work behind the scenes that we've been involved with. It did pay off," said Nolan.
"Let's hope now we'll be the first of its kind in Canada on this type of refining. It's a start, this is the way the world is changing."