Bay du Nord preparations at 'full speed,' Energy N.L. delegates told as conference wraps up

An Energy N.L. conference wrapped up in St. John's on Thursday with an upbeat report on the massive Bay du Nord project, with an Equinor executive saying preparations towards possible sanction are proceeding "at full speed."

Equinor executive says development plan in the works, with investment decision "in the next couple of years'

Torstein Hole, president of Equinor Canada, gave an update Thursday about the Bay du Nord project to delegates at the Energy N.L. conference in St. John's. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The Energy N.L. conference wrapped up in St. John's on Thursday with an upbeat report on the Bay du Nord project, with an Equinor executive saying preparations toward a possible sanction of the $16-billion offshore oil play are proceeding "at full speed."

He said the company remains on track for a possible sanction decision within two years, with first oil potentially drawn by the end of the decade.

A drill rig is currently carrying out exploration in the Flemish Pass, hoping to expand on estimates already at more than 500 million barrels of proven, recoverable oil.

"The project is continuing at full speed, and there is significant work ongoing and ahead of us," Torstein Hole, president of Equinor Canada, told delegates.

Hole's presentation bookended a well-attended three-day conference filled with major announcements as Newfoundland and Labrador's energy sector roars back to life following a pandemic-driven downturn.

It all started on Tuesday with news from Cenovus and its partner, Suncor, that the West White Rose project will be restarted, ensuring a long future for the legacy White Rose oil field.

On Wednesday, in a strong signal that Newfoundland and Labrador will be a player in the energy transition, a company called Pattern Energy announced plans to develop a wind energy and green hydrogen project at the Port of Argentia.

A rendering of a huge boat in the ocean.
If the Bay du Nord oil find in Newfoundland's offshore is developed by Equinor and its partners, Husky Energy and BP Canada, the companies will use a floating, production, storage and offloading vessel like the one pictured. (Equinor)

As well, there was news that BP Canada is establishing an office in St. John's as it prepares for a major oil and gas exploration campaign of its own in 2023, and that plans to convert the Come By Chance refinery into a renewable fuels producer is ongoing, with some 700 workers at the site.

What's more, Hibernia, the first project to go into production, will resume drilling operations later this year, and the Terra Nova floating production, storage and offloading vessel will also resume production later this year following a major overhaul in Spain, according to a Suncor executive.

There's also industry-funded seismic research being conducted offshore, and drilling campaigns by Equinor and ExxonMobil Canada have either begun, are about about to begin.

"This has been a great week," Darin King, executive director of Trades N.L., an umbrella organization for 16 building and construction trades union, said as the conference concluded.

A man wearing a grey suit standing in front of a backdrop which reads Energy NL.
Darin King is the executive director of Trades N.L., an umbrella organization for 16 building and construction trades unions in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

King said "thousands" of his members will be going back to work next year at the West White Rose construction site in Argentia, and the outlook is also strong for other projects.

"We're talking to people almost on a daily basis about potential projects," he said.

"There's lots of opportunities on the horizon from six months out to the next five to six years I think is just going to be great for the province."

Communications consultant and Energy N.L. board member Caron Hawco, who's been involved with the oil sector for a quarter-century, said the turnaround is jaw-dropping.

Two years ago, she said, the sector was "falling off a cliff" as the pandemic knocked off oil projects like dominoes. 

Hawco said it's especially exciting to see strong interest in wind energy projects, with Energy Minister Andrew Parsons telling reporters Thursday that more than a dozen "well-capitalized" proponents are showing an interest.

"There's new investors here in the room with us now, talking about how we could be a hot spot in energy transition, especially around hydrogen and wind energy. Who would have thought that the thing that we live with, every day, battle with every day, is possibly going to be our competitive advantage globally," said Hawco.

Bay du Nord a possible game-changer

But the spotlight was squarely on Equinor's top Canadian executive on Thursday, since Bay du Nord is touted as being a game-changer for the offshore industry.

Torstein Hole said Bay du Nord will cost $16 billion to develop, inject some $10 billion in royalty revenue into the provincial and federal government treasuries, and created 16,000 person-years of employment during the life of the field.

At peak, the field will produce up to 200,000 barrel of oil per day.

But it's far from a done deal.

After four years of winding its way through the environmental process, Bay du Nord was approved by the federal government in April despite stiff opposition from environmental groups. 

The project team now has to convince those who hold the purse strings that it's a worthwhile investment, and that will take about another two years, said Hole.

'The chances are very good'

First oil, he added, could be achieved by the end of the decade.

"I think the chances are very good," he told reporters, when asked if he's confident the project will proceed. "We need to mature it and see that we can develop it profitably."

But Bay du Nord is not without its critics, since it is advancing at a time when the emphasis is on reducing carbon emissions in order to combat climate change.

But Equinor says Bay du Nord is the right fit as the global economy transitions away from fossil fuels.

"Bay du Nord has the potential to be the lowest carbon intensity project of its scale in Canada, and fits very well with our strategy." said Hole.

For example, Equinor is proposing a closed loop flare system that will limit the need to burn off natural gas, and plans to use the heat created during oil production as a source of energy for the facility.

"We are applying some new technology that even we, as one of the lowest carbon producers in the world, haven't used in this environment before," Hole said.

A ship filled with robots and drones

Equinor is also investing heavily into innovation and technology, including the use of robots and flying drones, in order to ensure the highest levels of safety, and a minimum number of personnel at sea.

"Human work is still needed, but the job content will change,"  he said.

But there are headwinds. There are some major supply chain disruptions to consider, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine has caused even more upheaval in energy markets.

As a result, Hole said, "We are currently not able to accurately predict long-term pricing important for the project and the availability of goods and services. This adds additional risk into any major capital investment."

But he added that Bay du Nord is "a huge step forward for Equinor."

Hole said the company plans to submit a development plan to the offshore energy board within the next 12 months.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Terry Roberts is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, and is based in St. John’s. He previously worked for The Telegram, The Compass and The Northern Pen newspapers during a career that began in 1991. He can be reached by email at:

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