Nfld. & Labrador

Refinery layoffs, Hebron completion a blow but not a knockout for Avalon economy

The winding down of the Hebron construction project and job losses at the oil refinery in Come by Chance are dealing a double economic blow to the Avalon Peninsula's isthmus region.

Region still one of the most industrialized, prosperous areas of the province

Dave Hoskins of Arnold's Cove stands outside the oil refinery in Come by Chance, where he worked for 26 years before being laid off in November. His daughter and son were also let go. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

It's early afternoon as Dave Hoskins stands outside the Come by Chance oil refinery, surveying the complex maze of pipes and smoke stacks behind a chain-link fence, and breathing in the familiar scent of sulphur.

'I'm a little nervous," he admits.

Hoskins worked 26 years at the refinery before his life was turned upside down in November.

He was called into his manager's office and told his job was gone — one of 21 non-union workers let go that day.

"I didn't see it coming at all," he says.

A family hit hard 

But that was just the beginning of the bad news for his family.

His daughter was laid off in January, while his son was one of 80 unionized workers shown the door in early March.

He has another son still working at the refinery.

"Everything you'd want in a job was in there," he said, referring to the high wages and good benefits.

The company stated in December that it costs, on average, $125,000 annually to employ a worker at the refinery. 

In all, 128 positions have been cut by NARL Refining, with the owners saying the reductions were necessary to remain viable over the long term.

Large, comfortable homes like this one are common in the Arnold's Cove area. The owner was recently laid off from her job at the nearby Come by Chance oil refinery. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Dave Hoskins is close to retirement age, and said he'll manage. But the situation is much different for his son and daughter.

"They both built new houses, and started families with the expectation they'd be working there until they retired. Now this. It makes me worry about their future." 

Hebron jobs ending too

The refinery layoffs, along with the winding down of the Hebron project not far away in Bull Arm, are dealing a double economic blow to the Avalon Peninsula's isthmus region. 

After nearly six years of construction, the Hebron oil production platform is scheduled to be towed to the Jeanne d'Arc Basin later this spring, to become the province's fourth producing offshore oil field.

Construction on the Hebron oil platform in Bull Arm, Trinity Bay is nearing completion. The massive platform, which sits atop a concrete base, will be towed to the Jeanne d'Arc Basin later in April. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The project created thousands of well-paid construction jobs, with 3,700 people working on the project as of late 2016.

People from all over the province found work at the Bull Arm site, occupying nearly every available rental property and boosting local businesses.

Painter Todd Pierce of Harbour Breton is renting an apartment in Southern Harbour, and was seen recently purchasing supplies and gasoline from a service station in Arnold's Cove.

He expects to work his final shift some time in April, but will leave with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

"They expects that it's coming to the end," Pierce said of the remaining workers.

"Everybody seems like they're happy. They're like still working good. There's a lot of work being done."

Todd Pierce of Harbour Breton is one of thousands of people from this province to find work on the Hebron construction project. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The exodus of people like Pierce will leave a big gap in the rental market, and those in the retail sector tell CBC News they've already noticed a drop-off in sales.

"It's very noticeable," said an employee at an area hardware store.

Industrial juggernaut

Despite the downturn, the strip of land separating Placentia and Trinity bays remains an industrial juggernaut in the province.

The refinery still employs roughly 500 workers, and even more — about 850 — are employed at the multi-billion-dollar nickel processing facility in Long Harbour.

The area is also home to the marine transshipment terminal in Whiffen Head, which handles crude oil from the Newfoundland offshore, and though there's widespread uncertainty in the fishing industry, it remains a big employer in the area.

Two unidentified Come by Chance oil refinery workers leave after a recent shift. They are among the roughly 500 people still employed at the Placentia Bay facility. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

There are signs of prosperity around every corner: elegant homes, boats, travel trailers and recreational vehicles.

And there's hope for another major project at Bull Arm, though it may be years away.

That's little solace for the laid off workers at Come by Chance. Dave Hoskins said they are devastated.

"They don't know what they're going to do," said Hoskins.

"They've worked there most of their working lives, most of them. I know them all personally, and they're lost."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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