Nfld. & Labrador

Suncor plans for all scenarios as talks to extend life of Terra Nova FPSO drag on

As discussions over the future of the Terra Nova FPSO continue, the lead operator of the oilfield in Newfoundland's offshore is preparing for all contingencies, including decommissioning and abandonment.

Industry group 'deeply concerned' over future of idled oil field, while energy minister remains hopeful

The Terra Nova FPSO is moored dockside at the Bull Arm fabrication site in Trinity Bay, where its fate remains uncertain. The floating, production, storage and offloading vessel began producing oil in offshore Newfoundland in January 2002. (Facebook/Newfoundland Offshore)

As discussions over the future of the Terra Nova FPSO drag on, the lead operator of the offshore Newfoundland oilfield, Suncor Energy, is preparing for all contingencies, including decommissioning and abandonment.

That has the lobby group representing the oil and gas supply and service sector in Newfoundland and Labrador deeply concerned about whether the idled floating, production, storage and offloading vessel will ever again operate in the offshore.

"I hope we do not get to a point in the coming months where we are decommissioning the Terra Nova FPSO," Charlene Johnson, chief executive officer of the province's oil and gas industries association, better known as Noia, said in a statement Monday.

She said abandoning the Terra Nova field would be devastating for the province, but Energy Minister Andrew Parsons said Monday that hope remains for a successful outcome.

"Even though deadlines have come and gone, there continues to be conversations, and that to me always spells hope," Parsons told CBC News.

Charlene Johnson is chief executive officer of the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association, or Noia. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

According to the offshore industry regulator, nearly 900 people were employed directly with the Terra Nova project at the end of 2019, and many more through indirect activities.

But the Terra Nova has not produced oil in over a year, and hundreds of workers connected to the project have been laid off.

For months, the vessel has been moored dockside at the Bull Arm fabrication site in Trinity Bay as Suncor and its six partners struggle to find an economically viable path forward for the project.

Last week, Suncor issued a series of expressions of interests as talks between the companies and the provincial government continue over the fate of the field, and a $175-million grant being dangled by politicians as an incentive to save the project.

Suncor is seeking proposals from companies who could do wellbore abandonment for the 30 wells tied to the Terra Nova production system, 11 other exploration and delineation wells, and carry out decommissioning of the Terra Nova FPSO.

According to Suncor documents, the Terra Nova could be decommissioned later this year, and subsea abandonment work, which would require the services of a mobile offshore drilling unit and various support ships, could commence in the fall of 2022.

Andrew Parsons, Newfoundland and Labrador's energy minister, says talks to find an economically viable path forward for the Terra Nova oil field are ongoing. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

But Suncor is also seeking proposals from companies for the provision of subsea remediation and vessel services to support a modernization of the subsea facilities, located 350 kilometres east of St. John's.

The second scenario would also require an expensive overhaul of the aging Terra Nova FPSO.

"We needed to advance critical work that could support either outcome," Suncor Energy spokesperson Sneh Seetal wrote in a statement Monday to CBC News.

In its documents, Suncor makes it clear that a final decision on the oilfield's future has not yet been made.

Two deadlines have now come and gone for an agreement that would see the life of the field extended for at least another decade, and result in the production of another 80 million barrels of crude.

The provincial government has offered $175 million in public money to Suncor and its partners, and a break on royalty payments to the province, on the condition that the FPSO undergoes a refit, and that it is returned to production on the Grand Banks.

The province is also insisting that as much of the work as possible be carried out in the province.

The money is part of a $320 million lifeline provided by the federal government to help protect jobs and lower carbon emissions in the offshore.

Parsons said talks are ongoing, adding it's a complicated process with "competing priorities and different objectives" for the seven oil companies with ownership stakes.

He said the province will not give up on the Terra Nova.

"When you have something of this value that means so much to the workforce, the province, our treasury, I think it's incumbent upon us to never give up and have every conversation we can to see if we can explore this further," he said.

Asked what issues are preventing a deal from being reached, Parsons said he was unable to provide any specifics because of confidentiality agreements.

The Terra Nova FPSO is located about 350 kilometres off Newfoundland and Labrador, and has not produced oil since late December. (Suncor Energy)

As for the millions in public money on the table, Parsons said there is no formal timeline for a resolution, but acknowledged that extended delays are in no one's interest.

"Every day passing is a day people are not working, we're not producing [oil]," he said.

Any decision that results in the abandonment of the field would have far-reaching impacts on the provincial economy, said Johnson.

"We are perilously close to losing the 2021 season for maintenance and upgrades to the vessel, which in turn has a significant impact on Noia members in the coming years," she said. 

Since beginning production in January 2002, the Terra Nova has produced 425 million barrels of oil.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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