A string of Bay du Nords? OilCo CEO Jim Keating says it could happen over next 10 years

·4 min read
Jim Keating, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador oil and gas corporation, better known as OilCo, says three or four more producing oilfields could be developed in offshore Newfoundland and Labrador over the next decade. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Jim Keating, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador oil and gas corporation, better known as OilCo, says three or four more producing oilfields could be developed in offshore Newfoundland and Labrador over the next decade. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)

The controversial approval by the federal government of Bay du Nord in April was accompanied by strong hints from Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault that it might be the last expansion of the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil industry.

"It would be very difficult for a new project to pass the bar," Guilbeault said at the time, referring to increasingly tight environmental regulations adopted in 2019 and the increasing price oil companies will have to pay for their emissions.

"The more time passes, the more unfavourable conditions will be for oil projects," he said.

But that message doesn't seem to be discouraging oil companies, or the person in charge of Newfoundland and Labrador's government-owned oil company, OilCo CEO Jim Keating.

"We've already heard about the tremendous benefit of Bay du Nord. Just imagine three or four more of those in the span of the next decade," Keating told CBC News on Thursday.

Keating turned heads during his recent speech at the Energy N.L. conference in St. John's, where he suggested three or four new producing fields are possible within the next 10 years, and boasted about a new prospect called Blue Jacket, and how oil companies are said to be drooling over it.

Keating says Blue Jacket could be the next Bay du Nord, calling it "a prospect like no other."

What's more, he said it's one of 20 prospects discovered during a government-funded seismic exploration program over the last decade that have one-billion-barrel potential.

"It's simply massive. We know there's interest from some companies, even some new entrants, so I'm very hopeful, cautiously optimistic that we'll see a resurgence in exploration," he said.

Equinor
Equinor

Keating's speech to the Energy N.L. conference came at a time of renewed hope and enthusiasm for the province's oil and gas industry, which was hit hard by the pandemic

There are exploration and seismic campaigns planned for this summer, and more in the works for next year. Cenovus and its partners have announced a restart of the West White Rose expansion project, and the Terra Nova floating production, storage and offloading vessel is expected to be producing oil once again by the end of this year.

OilCo is also preparing two resource assessments for November's call for bids for offshore exploration licences, which includes the Blue Jacket prospect in a frontier area called the Salar Basin. Keating has compared the Blue Jacket geoscience data to major discoveries in places like Guyana and Suriname, where he said companies like ExxonMobil are spending billions to develop oilfields.

Keating said Blue Jacket is almost double the size of the Ephesus prospect in the Orphan Basin, which is scheduled to be explored by BP Canada during a drilling campaign in 2023.

But Keating's bullish outlook is not popular with environmentalists like Gretchen Fitzgerald of St. Anthony.

"It's almost like they think they're living on a different planet," Fitzgerald, the Sierra Club Canada Foundation's national programs director, said Thursday from her home office in Halifax.

The Sierra Club has launched a court challenge against the federal decision to approve Equinor's Bay du Nord project, which could be producing up to 200,000 barrels per day by the end of this decade.

"Other projects will be opposed heavily," said Fitzgerald. "We will continue to watch and challenge future projects legally where possible."

Fitzgerald says the province should focus on renewable energy projects and set an example the rest of the world can follow.

"We know that if we want a safe future for our kids and a sustainable economy going forward, there can be no new oil exploration. Full stop," she said.

Zoom
Zoom

But Keating says Newfoundland and Labrador can play a big role in the energy transition. The plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 will still require up to 40 million barrels of oil every day, he said, and the province's offshore industry can help meet that demand.

Keating likes to speak about "advantaged barrels," or oil that can be produced at less than $40 per barrel, with emissions during the extraction process that are below 10 kilograms per barrel, and in a jurisdiction with stable and mature regulations and geopolitics.

"That's what companies are looking for, and that's what we have," he said.

Keating says the pandemic and Russian invasion of Ukraine have exposed the need to balance climate change mitigation with energy security and affordability.

Meanwhile, the number of companies looking for oil and gas has dropped significantly since the pandemic, and the fact many of the world's biggest players are continuing to invest in the offshore industry is encouraging, said Keating.

But that opinion is not universal.

"I think it's a real shame that people are selling this very uncertain and dangerous industry when there are clear solutions," said Fitzgerald.

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