Nfld. & Labrador

Port of Argentia making a play for more oil and gas business

With Newfoundland and Labrador's oil and gas industry poised for growth, the Port of Argentia is gearing up to provide some of the increased shore-based services that will be needed.

Port operator to carry out feasibility study to determine whether $50M expansion is viable

This undeveloped shoreline on the east side of Argentia Harbour, known as Cooper Cove, could soon become a supply and service base for the offshore oil and gas industry. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

With Newfoundland and Labrador's oil and gas industry poised for growth, the Port of Argentia is gearing up to provide some of the increased shore-based services that might be needed.

The board that operates the port has issued a request for proposals from companies who can do a study to determine whether it's feasible to move ahead with a $50-million expansion to the docking facilities.

"If the industry is growing, there must be a role for Argentia in it because the advantages are so compelling," said Port of Argentia general manager Chris Newhook.

Rich military history

Argentia is already considered one of the finest ports in Atlantic Canada, with a rich military history dating back to the Second World War.

The Port of Argentia has already proven its value to the offshore oil industry. It is the construction site for a concrete gravity structure for the West White Rose oil platform. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The navy ships, airplanes and most of the buildings are long gone, but the natural assets that made Argentia such an appealing location for the U.S. navy remain.

There's the sheltered, ice-free commercial port with deep water, allowing for year-round access for every kind of shipping.

It's a fully developed industrial site, with plenty of flat, waterfront land.

It's already an active commercial port, welcoming nearly 200 ship visits each year, and is home to 42 businesses.

Untapped potential

But the people who run Argentia believe the full potential has not yet been tapped, and the key to further growth may lie beneath the ocean, in offshore Newfoundland.

What we're trying to develop is the possibility of having a facility, an offshore base where it can be used with priority or exclusive use by the offshore industry.- Chris Newhook

"What we're trying to develop is the possibility of having a facility, an offshore base where it can be used with priority or exclusive use by the offshore industry," Newhook explained.

The provincial government wants to double oil production by 2030, and an aggressive exploration program, led by some of the world's biggest oil companies, is slowly ramping up with billions in expenditures planned.

Port of Argentia general manager Chris Newhook says the port's advantages are compelling. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

This will mean a bigger demand for shoreline services, which could mean more activity than ports like St. John's, Marystown, Bull Arm and Bay Bulls can handle.

And in the longer term, there's hope among industry insiders that the four producing oilfields will have some company.

So Argentia is stepping up.

"For activities like inspection, repair, maintenance, fabrication activities that could be involved in the industry as it grows, we think we are in a very good position with this ice-free harbour, to support that industry," Newhook added.

Port to seek out partners

If the feasibility study, expected to be completed by next fall, finds there is merit in the strategy, the search for government and private partnerships will begin, said Newhook.

He said the expansion could be undertaken in phases, or "perhaps all at once."

"I can see Argentia playing a major role in the offshore industry," added Town of Placentia Deputy Mayor Keith Pearson.

Deputy Mayor Keith Pearson says Placentia can play a major role in the offshore oil industry. (Terry Roberts/CBC)


As expected, the town council is fully on board with this strategy.

"Everybody is looking for ways to diversify your economy within your community. And this would certainly do that for the Town of Placentia, and certainly help bring people back into the community, build our numbers, grow our tax base," said Pearson.
Argentia means everything for Placentia. Argentia is the driving force.- Keith Pearson

"Argentia means everything for Placentia. Argentia is the driving force, the economic driving factor of the town."

Argentia has already demonstrated its value to oil companies. Husky's massive West White Rose concrete gravity structure is under construction at Argentia.

"They're having great success on the site. They're able to capture the workforce that they need to carry out this activity, so that demonstrates this is a good logical place to consider for some of their future activities," said Newhook.

Husky's massive concrete gravity structure for the West White Rose extension project, seen here in December, is 55 per cent complete and is being built in a specially built graving dock at the Port of Argentia. (Husky Energy)

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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: Terry.Roberts@cbc.ca.

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