The union representing offshore workers rallied outside Confederation Building in St. John's on Monday, as an emergency debate about the future of the Terra Nova oilfield was being held in the House of Assembly.
Suncor Energy, the lead oil company in the project, is expected to announce Tuesday whether the owners will press forward with an expensive refit of the production vessel and subsea infrastructure, or pull the plug and decommission the assets.
The provincial government had discussed acquiring an equity stake in the oilfield, but Energy Minister Andrew Parsons announced Thursday it was too risky for the province to become a partner.
While it will not have a stake in the field, the government is offering more than $200 million in cash from an oil industry recovery fund, and promising to forgo some $300 million in royalties from the Terra Nova.
Union leaders said they fear that if the provincial government does not become a partner, it will mean the end of the field — and the nearly 1,000 jobs linked to it.
Dave Mercer, president of Unifor Local 2121, which represents unionized workers on the Hibernia oil platform and the Terra Nova floating production, storage and offloading vessel, called for supporters to join the rally in a bid to increase pressure on the oil companies and the government.
"We certainly believe in our workers in this industry, not just for Terra Nova, [but] certainly for Hibernia and everybody else that's offshore in the oil industry," he told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.
"We're so dependent on this, and what we can't do is let this go without a fight. The government is saying it's too risky, but we don't know the numbers."
Mercer said he wants more transparency from the provincial government and the oil companies that share ownership of the Terra Nova.
'What more do you want?'
Workers at the demonstration said they hoped a deal could be reached to save their jobs, with some putting pressure on the oil companies to get people back to work.
Wayne Hynes says he has worked in the Terra Nova oilfield since 2006, but has been in limbo since being laid off in December. He said he doesn't agree with the companies threatening to leave the province, given the offer made by the provincial government.
"It's kinda ridiculous. This project has put so much into this province and the economy, provided so many jobs and so many benefits, and now the oil companies are like, 'no, b'y, let's get out of here,'" he said.
Hynes said it now rests with the companies to make a decision on Terra Nova's future.
"What more do you want? We're after giving you what we can, so I just wish they'd make a decision [about] what they're going to do."
House of Assembly debate
During the emergency debate in House of Assembly on Monday, Premier Andrew Furey said the risk of buying a stake in the oilfield is too great. With about 85 per cent of the oil already removed from the field, he said, it doesn't make sense for the province to bear the risk so late in the project's lifespan.
The premier said the project's owners are in a better position to take on that risk, and he asked them to come to the table with a deal to save Terra Nova.
Parsons said the oil companies that own the project have reaped the benefits and are now asking government to take on increased responsibility and risk late in the project.
"These companies have a much healthier bottom line than this province," he said.
"There [are] other private interests out there.… It's incumbent on the ownership to go to the table — we will assist, we will do what we can, we've got half a billion dollars sitting there, but to come back to us and ask to put it on the backs of 520,000 people is not right."
PC MHA Chris Tibbs, however, said keeping people employed is worth the cost of an equity stake in the project.
NDP MHA Jim Dinn encouraged the provincial government to put money toward supporting workers instead of oil companies, saying the world is turning away from oil. Dinn said the province needs to plan a transition away from the oil industry.
Following the rally, federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan said the federal government is fighting for the offshore industry, but an equity stake in Terra Nova is "the province's decision to make." He also put the onus on the oil companies.
"The ball is in the court of the companies," O'Regan said. "I think the province has put forward half a billion dollars on the table, it's a lot of public money."