Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. says no deal to Husky's request for a 'tremendous' amount of money

Finance Minister Siobhan Coady says the province has nothing left to give to Husky for the West White Rose extension project.

Meanwhile, Placentia reeling from uncertainty over West White Rose future

The West White Rose extension project would see a 145-metre-high concrete structure built at the Argentia industrial park in Placentia. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's finance minister says there is no way the government can prop up an oil company threatening to pull the plug on a $2.2-billion project.

Siobhán Coady told reporters Thursday that Husky Energy has come looking for further investment in the West White Rose extension project, but the province is in no financial state to help out.

The province already owns a five per cent stake in the development, and Coady said it's given all it can.

"They've come looking for a tremendous investment in that project," she said. "We just don't have the financial capacity to be able to give them the large sum of money they're looking for."

Finance Minister Siobhan Coady says the province has nothing more to give to Husky Energy. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Husky is also calling on the federal government to lend support. On Wednesday, federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan said he is "at the table with the province right now," figuring out the next steps.

A senior VP with Husky said the company is asking for a similar arrangement to Ottawa's deal with the Hibernia project in the 1990s. At that time, the federal government invested $431 million for an 8.5 per cent stake in the operation.

Placentia hanging hopes on future of project

A small town in Newfoundland is facing the reality of an economic collapse if Husky Energy pulls up stakes and shuts down a massive project.

Placentia is home to the Argentia industrial park, which in turn is home to the West White Rose extension project — a $2.2-billion project to build a concrete structure to sit on the ocean floor 350 kilometres offshore.

That's been on hold since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The project was launched into uncertainty on Wednesday when Husky announced it was reviewing all of its operations in Atlantic Canada.

"Is it a ploy? Is it a tactic? Nobody is really sure what's happening but it's not very good news," said Placentia Mayor Bernie Power.

Scott Penney is CEO of the Argentia Port Authority. He's been on the job less than a week and Husky Energy is reviewing its operations in the province. (CBC)

For his town, a Husky exit would mean high-paying jobs lost, a port left without a major project, and dozens of local businesses left with fewer paying customers.

Power said it also casts a shadow over people's hopes that the pandemic would end and prosperity might continue.

"We were optimistic because Husky was going to start again in 2021. We were optimistic that 2021 was going to have a better start," he said. "Now 2021 seems like it's going to be a repeat of 2020."

New port CEO in unenviable position

Five days into his new job, Scott Penney can barely believe his luck.

He is the new CEO of the Argentia Port Authority and facing the prospect of billions of dollars leaving town and hundreds of jobs drying up for good.

Penney is still processing the news, but has a little optimism.

"It's a bit of a curveball but I think we'll be OK," he said.

The majority of work shut down in March when the COVID-19 pandemic set in in Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

The graving dock is quiet now, but on an average day on the West White Rose extension project there would be 750 workers milling about and gigantic cranes stretching to the sky.

The concrete base is set to be 122 metres wide and 145 metres high. The project is 60 per cent complete.

When Argentia brought in one of the world's largest cranes, it drew the craned necks of interested people around the province. Since March, however, it's been a different story.

"It's quiet," Penney said. "There is no traffic. There's no buzz. There's no vibrant feel to the surrounding area. There's nobody stopping in."

Penney hopes that doesn't become the norm, and is calling on the federal government to get involved.

"At the end of the day, the federal government has got to be a partner. And until that time happens and until there's action, there will be a lot of despair in the households of Newfoundland," he said.

Mayor Power says he remains hopeful something can get done.

"We would like to see this project continue. It's 60 per cent complete," he said. "Nobody would have realized the possibility of the project just shutting down all together."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Terry Roberts and Mark Quinn