17 December 2009

Hebron cuts: Dunderdale blunders; will NALCOR alone foot bill for replacement work?

In the House of Assembly on Wednesday, natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale confirmed what Bond Papers told you about on December 11:

There are no provisions of the final benefits agreement signed in August 2008 that cover a work cancellation and mandate that it has to be replaced by work of equal value or the cash equivalent.

Nothing could be further from the truth

Dunderdale issued a highly misleading news release on December 11 that claimed “any such issues were contemplated in the Benefits Agreement and the replacement value of the work was captured and protected."

As you learned here last week, nothing could be further from the truth.

Dunderdale told the legislature on Wednesday (December 16) that the agreement contained a provision on amendments and another on dispute resolution. There was no dispute, according to Dunderdale, as the parties came together and achieved an agreement.

Well that’s not the same as having “the replacement value of the work”  already “captured and protected”.  That’s not  “copper-fastened”, either as Dunderdale also claimed. That’s people getting together and hammering out a new deal which could include provisions among the partners as to who will foot the bill for what amounts to a political decision – the replacement benefits – rather than a purely commercial one.

. And as for that section on amendments, here it is in its entirety:

12.3 Amendment.

No amendment to this Agreement is effective unless made in writing and signed by authorized representatives of all Parties

Nor is the new deal an actual, finalised agreement.  As Dunderdale told the House of Assembly, there is an agreement in principle that must now be translated into a legal document.  There’s still lots of room for further changes, in other words in a project not due to be sanctioned until 2012.

Abandon Ship!

By the end of the questioning, Dunderdale became so rattled that she abandoned her false claim last week that the benefits were secured within the agreement:

Mr. Speaker, the parties came together, we did not even need to use mechanisms provided in the Hebron Benefits Agreement. [Emphasis added]

That pretty much blew what was left of her credibility out of the water.

Dunderdale also disclosed that the total value of the cancelled work is less than $50 million.  Her office earlier refused to disclose what they claimed was commercially sensitive information.

The Hebron partners – including the provincial government’s NALCOR Energy -cancelled the work because it was deemed “uneconomic and has significant execution and schedule risks” for the project Dunderdale estimates may cost as much as $7.0 billion.

NALCOR to foot bill?

If the agreement in principle is actually signed, it is unclear at this point if the $50 million of replacement work will be provided by the oil companies or by the provincial government’s energy company in its capacity as an equity partner on the project.