The mayor of St. John's has brought a political edge to a reception for a departing oil executive, with a decision to protest ExxonMobil plans for development of the Hebron oilfield.

Dennis O'Keefe said in a statement he is boycotting the reception for ExxonMobil Canada president Meg O'Neill, who will soon be leaving St. John's.

"I do feel that it would be inappropriate to attend this event given my strong stance against any of the work for the ExxonMobil's Hebron project moving out of this province," said O'Keefe, who is siding with Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale in a dispute over local benefits.

ExxonMobil said earlier this week it will likely need to build one of the three modules for the Hebron platform outside Newfoundland and Labrador, despite an earlier commitment to do so — subject to labour capacity in the province.

ExxonMobil now says it will not be able to recruit enough skilled workers to handle the work while still meeting its targets.

O'Keefe said his decision has nothing to do with O'Neill herself.

"She is a wonderful person who loves Newfoundland and Labrador and I would like to wish her all the best in her future endeavours," he said.

ExxonMobil plans to extract first oil from the field Hebron-Ben Nevis field by 2017, making it the fourth field to go into production off Newfoundland's east coast.

O'Keefe said St. John's has undergone remarkable growth, largely thanks to the offshore oil industry.

"As long as we are capable of doing the work to build these three modules it needs to remain in this province," he said.

"If we let this go, it will be a slippery slope that ends with us losing control of our natural resources."