25 August 2016

Same circus #nlpoli

Somewhere in Newfoundland and Labrador,  someone may not have heard the news.

There is oil and natural gas in the ground under water off our coast.

Never mind that this has been widely reported since the 1960s when someone first started exploring seriously out there.  Never mind, either, that we have had oil fields producing oil and filling the provincial government's bank account with billions of dollars since the late 1990s.

Some people might have missed that we have oil and has.  And we have a lot more than anyone is currently producing.

It is out of concern for these couple of folks living in a cave possibly in the Annieopsquotch Mountains that the provincial government has held a news conference to announce the latest estimates of how much more oil might, possibly, theoretically be out there.

Well, either that or it is polling month and the politicians are in deep political trouble this year, like their predecessors were last October when they held a news conference to announce last year's estimates of theoretical future gloriosity lurking somewhere underground. Maybe.

Last year,  Paul Davis (right, last October) was so desperate to stay in power that his job as premier that he said the 2015 assessment showed we ere "poised for greatness,"  now that we were no longer "passive participants" in offshore soil splendour.

"Destined to be a global energy powerhouse" dontchya know.

And of course, "no more give-aways."

This year,  Dwight Ball is "cautiously optimistic" about the 2016  assessment.

But this year,  Ball (left,  on Wednesday) announced there is theoretically twice as much oil in the two percent of the offshore surveyed than there was in another two percent surveyed last year.

Don' t take out a second mortgage on your house just yet. All these announcements about oil are like the files on Fairity O'Brien's desk back when he was the minister of business.  Every time someone interviewed him there were more and more files on his desk of companies looking to start a business here.  The number went up geometrically the longer Fairity talked and in the end very few - if any - of them panned out.

Supposedly, the government holds these dog and pony shows with politicians in order to attract oil companies to land sales in the offshore.  In reality,  these are for the politicians and are aimed entirely at the domestic audience of punters.  Oil companies never spend money based on these sorts of preliminary projections by a third party.  They always make their own assessments based on long-range corporate plans.

In the case of the Orphan Basin and the Flemish Pass,  the oil companies are going to be cautious about spending money to drill exploratory wells in an area where there are all sorts of unanswered questions.  Only a couple have been willing to take a risk on the area where the oil is a long way off shore,  very deep under water, and then very deep under ground beyond that.  There are significant technical issues to overcome.  There are significant cost issues to overcome.  Heck,  we don't even have a royalty regime for the area yet.

The offshore regulatory board has offered lands for bid in the Orphan Basin based on some interest expressed by oil companies.  But, as the head of the local offshore supply company association noted to CBC,  no one has drilled anything in the Orphan yet.  It's unknown land.  In the Flemish Pass, last year's hugely successful sale came after significant discoveries by Statoil and its partners.  Once people can confirm there is oil in an area that boosts the chances of finding more oil in enough quantities to make the thing potentially viable from a commercial view.

In the meantime,  the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador can foot the bill for all the seismic exploration they want.  Until someone pokes a hole in the ground and finds oil,  saying there is potentially 25 billion barrels is like saying there are a trillion gajillion barrels out there.  It's bullshit.

Dog and pony shows are easy for politicians and their bureaucrats to put on.  What we need is a mature, informed discussion about how to ensure the local offshore is globally competitive while protecting the interests of the people who actually own the resource.  That would be you and me. Twenty-odd years ago politicians wouldn't dream of carrying on such discussions without informing the public along the way .

Over the last decade or so,  the politicians prefer to carry on public business in secret,  as if ordinary residents in the province had no right to know what the government was doing with their money and their resources.  The former administration carried on talks about a royalty regime for the Flemish Pass without disclosing the issues involved to the public.

The current Liberal administration has talked about an "advisory council."  But that advisory council is really nothing but a group of industry insiders privately deciding the future of public resources with a group of  politicians.  The politicians - regardless of political stripe - like to talk about being "transparent" but inevitably balk at disclosing details to the public before any major deals are cut, which is what transparent really means.  There's no reason to believe the current crop of politicians will be any more transparent than their secretive predecessors were. They have done nothing to demonstrate they are different.

To the contrary,  so much of the old apparatus and old attitudes remain in place from the Conservative era, it's a virtual certainty the Liberals will just continue what has been going on since 2003 or so.  The experience of the back-room deals in projects like Hebron or Muskrat Falls doesn't bode well for the future.  Dialling back the rhetoric from "poised for greatness" at one dog and pony show to "cautiously optimistic" at another isn't enough of a difference to confirm that anything has changed.

It's really just the same circus.