11 December 2009

Hebron benefits not secured

The highly touted Hebron offshore oil project hasn’t completed environmental review, it hasn’t been sanctioned and there’s no development application yet but already the amount of work on the project is being scaled back, according to news release from the province’s natural resources department.

According to the release, project lead ExxonMobil has informed the provincial government that it won’t be building the “sub-sea drilling template and the components of the field mooring system and positioning and docking system.”

The release says the elements are “uneconomic and come with significant execution and schedule risks.”  Put another way that likely means the companies don’t believe the work can be completed in the province and the alternatives are too costly to consider.  The work will now be scratched entirely.

No provision for replacement in agreement despite Dunderdale claim

And while the provincial natural resources department claims the cancelled work will be replaced, there’s no guarantee that will actually occur.

The release quotes natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale as saying that the provincial government “had the foresight to ensure that any such issues were contemplated in the Benefits Agreement and the replacement value of the work was captured and protected.”

There are no provisions of the final benefits agreement signed in August 2008 that cover such a cancellation.

And what’s more the release confirms there’s no such provision when it states that:

An amendment to the Benefits Agreement will now be developed by the parties to implement this arrangement.

If the situation was already “captured and protected” there wouldn’t need for an amendment – that is, a change – to the benefits agreement.

The benefits agreement contains a clause (3.3) which exempts the companies from having to provide any benefit contained in the agreement unless the offshore board approves the benefits plan, the federal and provincial ministers approve the plan and the project is sanctioned.

At least two of those three preconditions have not been met.

The agreement does contain a dispute resolution mechanism.  There’s no indication if that has been triggered or if it may be triggered should the companies and government fail to agree on replacement benefits.

Valuation of cancelled work “commercially sensitive”

But wait:  it gets better.

The same news release claims that “[s]hould the operator be unable to identify an equivalent amount of replacement work by June 30, 2010, a payment will be made to the province equal in value to the amount of work not replaced. These funds will then be used by government for a construction project for the benefit of the oil and gas industry.”

The public will never know because the department is refusing to release the value of the cancelled work.

Contacted today by Bond Papers, a spokesperson for the department refused to release what was described as “commercially sensitive” information.