Nfld. & Labrador

2nd company says it's interested in North Atlantic refinery, as anxious workers worry about jobs

While a tentative deal with Irving Oil has fallen through, North Atlantic Refinery Limited says shutting the facility permanently is one option. However, another company has stepped forward to express interest in the site.

Origin International says it's awaiting further clarity on Come by Chance site

A meeting with workers at the Come by Chance oil refinery was held Tuesday morning. Employees declined to comment afterwards. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

While the permanent closure of the Come by Chance oil refinery is not a done deal just yet, job cuts are coming this week, according to the union representing workers at the site. 

While sources initially told CBC News on Monday night the refinery was definitely shutting its doors for good, North Atlantic Refinery Limited says it is considering its options and trying to find ways to cut costs and save money before moving to close the refinery. 

That information was contained in a letter to workers, seen by CBC News on Tuesday. 

The company confirmed a proposed deal with Irving Oil — a transaction many had hoped would give the aging facility new life — had all but fallen through,

North Atlantic Refinery Limited said in its internal message to workers that it "does not expect the sale of the refinery [to Irving Oil] to go forward."

Union executive say it's an anxious time for workers who await the future of the Come by Chance refinery. Pictured here: Glenn Nolan, president of USW Local 9316, front, Ron Thomas International rep USW, Rita Lockyer, secretary Local 9316, and Perry Feltham, VP Local 9316. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

North Atlantic said it is trying to remain economically viable when it comes to the refinery, and absent that, it "will proceed with permanent closure." It's not clear how long the company is prepared to carry on before shutting down the refinery.

Glenn Nolan, president of United Steelworkers Local 9316, told CBC it's an anxious time as uncertainty swirls. 

He said he had a call with Premier Andrew Furey and Industry, Energy and Technology Minister Andrew Parsons.

"We're asking what the options are and we're hoping that in the next couple of days, they'll get back to us and let us know where we stand," he said.

The refinery employs 500 workers directly, along with dozens of contract employees. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Nolan said the devastation to the economy, families and livelihoods cannot be overstated if the refinery closes. 

"Our futures are all over … and when I say 'futures,' I mean future of Newfoundland and Labrador," he said. 

Another company interested in refinery

The situation involving the refinery continues to evolve almost hourly. 

A meeting with union employees working at the refinery concluded Tuesday morning shortly before 11 a.m. NT. Workers declined to comment, and resumed work at the site.  

There may be another glimmer of hope for the facility. 

Nicholas Myerson is the CEO of Maryland-based oil recycling company Origin International, which is once again expressing interest in the refinery. (Origin International)

Shortly after 12:30 p.m., Origin International Inc. — a private U.S. company that specializes in recycling used oil —issued a statement saying it remains "interested in the refinery."

"We are limited in the commentary we can provide at this point as we have had no opportunity to do any due diligence and are not aware if any new sale process has begun," reads the statement provided to CBC News. 

"We appreciate how important Come by Chance is to the Newfoundland and Labrador economy."

The company said it is awaiting further clarity on the status of the refinery from North Atlantic. 

It isn't the first time Origin International has expressed interest in the refinery.

The company's CEO wrote a letter in June to then provincial natural resources minister Siobhan Coady.

"In the event the Irving transaction stakeholders deem appropriate an assessment of alternatives to acquire NARC, Origin stands willing and able to re-engage in its bid for NARC," Nicholas Myserson wrote. 

"We just wanted to make decision-makers aware of our interest in the province and a key asset in the event circumstances changed."

'We'll have to move away'

If a permanent closure were to happen, it would see 500 direct jobs axed and mean less work for dozens of contract employees.

In the past, the refinery has contributed to as much as five per cent of the province's economy.

Mary Whelan and her husband, Dennis Furlong, say there will be severe consequences if the refinery were to close. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Dennis Furlong of Arnold's Cove has worked at the refinery for 22 years. He was laid off in April and had hoped to get back to the refinery, but said he isn't shocked at the latest developments, given the economic climate.

"It's totally different times now. Small businesses, big businesses, doesn't matter. The profits aren't there for any of them anymore," Furlong told CBC News on Tuesday afternoon. 

"That's it. You have to be able to roll with the punches."

His wife, Mary Whelan, fought back tears as she talked to CBC, saying the couple can't survive financially on her salary alone if the refinery does close.

"I don't know what going to happen.… We'll have to move away, I'd say," she said sombrely. 

Daniel Baker says the economic devastation of the closure would be felt by convenience stores, coffee shops, restaurants and other businesses. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Daniel Baker, who works for an industrial maintenance company, said the indirect economic blowblack would be massive. 

"You're looking at 600 or 700 families," he said.

"There's a lot of spinoff jobs from this.… You take this little coffee shop, it's going to be hard on them," he added, pointing to a building behind him.

Jeff Slade says if the refinery closes, he will likely have to move to British Columbia for work. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

Jeff Slade was laid off from the refinery in March. His wife and two kids are in Arnold's Cove, but if the site is closed for good, he figures he will have to move by the spring. 

"Probably head back to B.C.… Hopefully something comes out of it, [I'll] see what happens, you know. It's a pandemic — it's a bad time, a bad time," Slade told CBC News. 

North Atlantic said it will continue to operate the fuel tank farm at the refinery and supply various fuels throughout the province.

The chain of North Atlantic service stations and Orange Stores will also continue to operate.

"The company will not be providing comment on internal, confidential matters at this time," North Atlantic Refining said in a statement Monday evening.The refinery appeared to be on the upswing prior to the global pandemic, which forced the owners to stop refining fuels in March.

'This situation is fluid': Parsons

Furey said Tuesday morning "all hope is not lost."

"This is an incredible asset for the province and we're not going to let it squander," he said, before quickly adding the deal involves two commercial entities. 

A similar sentiment was repeated by Parsons later in the day, when the future of the refinery took centre stage in the House of Assembly.

The PCs, including leader Ches Crosbie and Harbour Main MHA Helen Conway Ottenheimer, hammered the Liberals about the issue during question period Tuesday.

"The people have a right to know. When [Parsons] references that he's facilitating this deal, the people have a right to know exactly how this is being done. These workers deserve to know what their government is doing to protect their livelihoods," said Conway Ottenheimer. 

"Minister, you said again last night the province is not privy to discussions, but with so many jobs at stake, how can the minister take such a hands-off detached approach?"

Industry, Energy and Technology Minister Andrew Parsons says the government is not party to any potential deal involving the refinery, since it would be between two private entities. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Parsons repeated parts of his previous answers, stating the government understands the gravity of the situation and noting it's a evolving situation. He also stressed the government is not a party to the any proposed deal.

"I know the member opposite [Conway Ottenheimer] knows how commercial deals work. The fact is, you'd love to be able to stand up and say everything you can, you want. But the reality is doing so may place us in a tougher situation," Parsons said.

The possible closure of the refinery also had federal politicians talking on Tuesday. Federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan issued a statement on Twitter, saying his thoughts are with workers at the refinery — adding "No matter the outcome, we will be there for workers."

Federal Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole spoke about the closure in the House of Commons Tuesday, accusing the federal government of "abandoning the families of Newfoundland and Labrador" and asking when the government will have a plan in place to support families in the energy sector.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Terry Roberts and Stephanie Kinsella

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