There's a costly effort underway to try and extend the life of one of Newfoundland and Labrador's producing oil fields, and it could protect the jobs of some 1,000 workers for another decade.

Brent Janke, Suncor's vice-president for Eastern Canada, told delegates at the Newfoundland Offshore Industries Association oil and gas conference in St. John's Wednesday that the company expects to decide next year whether the Terra Nova FPSO can operate well beyond its 2022 maturation date.

The FPSO is the floating, production storage and offloading platform that Terra Nova's owners chose for the field, rather than a more costly gravity-based structure. 

In the meantime, Suncor is spending millions to determine how much more reserves are available, and whether it is recoverable.

Part of that process will include bringing in a semi-submersible drill rig, which will bring the number of rigs in Newfoundland's offshore back to three.

Prices for other options have dropped

Suncor is currently reviewing bids from drilling companies, and expects to decide this summer on what company it will partner with.

Brent Janke Suncor vice-president for Eastern Canada

Suncor VP Brent Janke says a decision is expected next year on whether the Terra Nova floating platform can remain in production past 2022. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

But sources tell CBC News that Transocean, a company with a vast background in the offshore, is the preferred option.

Transocean has a number of harsh environment rigs available for work, and market conditions mean companies like Suncor can lease these rigs at bargain-basement prices in comparison to just two years ago.

Janke said the drilling contract will last anywhere from 12 to 15 months, with the potential for an extension.

This will add hundreds more jobs to the sector at a time when companies are aggressively cutting costs in the face of low oil prices.

The Terra Nova is located in the Jeanne d'Arc Basin and produced first oil in 2002.

Suncor has been exploring this possibility of extending the life of the floating, production, storage and offloading vessel for three years, with the intent of doing what's called "in field" drilling.

Benefits include jobs, royalties, spinoffs

So how much more oil might be in the field?

That's part of the evaluation currently underway, but both the company and the province's offshore petroleum board estimate additional reserves of 100-plus million barrels.

"Part of the evaluation is to determine what is recoverable and where can we drill to try and recover more of that resource," said Janke.

In addition to protecting the jobs, most of whom are held by residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, extending the field will also mean much-needed royalties and taxes for the provincial government, and millions more in spinoffs to local companies for the purchase of goods and services.

If successful, the life extension will follow a similar pattern set by Hibernia, the province's first producing oil field.

Hibernia was scheduled to be coming to the end of its life around now, but is now expected to continue producing for another 30 years.