January 17, 2013
Massive Hebron project a construction “bright star”
The construction of the Hebron oilfield project southeast of St. John’s, N.L. is a “bright star” in the province’s construction industry, though it will come with skilled labour demand challenges, says one local industry leader.
“There’s an opportunity here for Newfoundland to say we can do this here and we can continue to do this here,” said Kevin McEvoy, first vice-chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Association (NLCA) board of directors.
“We’ve been a smaller economy for so many years and a province that was grasping to keep going, this is an opportunity for local business to grow.”
On Jan. 4, ExxonMobil Corp. announced it will proceed with the $14 billion Hebron offshore oil project, which is estimated to contain 660-1,055 million barrels of recoverable crude oil. The oilfield is located offshore in the Jeanne d’Arc Basin 350 kilometres southeast of St. John’s.
The Hebron field will be developed using a stand-alone concrete gravity based structure (GBS), which will consist of a reinforced concrete structure designed to withstand sea ice, icebergs and meteorological and oceanographic conditions. The Bull Arm Site is the primary construction site for the GBS.
ExxonMobil expects the development will begin producing oil before the end of 2017 and up to 3,500 people will be needed during its construction phase.
Construction trades needed include bricklayer, boilermaker, ironworker, carpenter and cement finisher, among others.
This project will add to the nationwide demand for skilled tradespeople. The Construction Sector Council’s (CSC) 2012 to 2020 forecast predicts the need for an estimated 319,000 new construction workers nationally to keep up with current construction demands and the number of expected retirements from the Baby Boomer generation.
Over the next decade, over 4,000 Newfoundland workers will retire, predicts the CSC. Overall, Atlantic Canada has an older workforce than the rest of the country.
“They need to keep the workers around maybe a little longer, funding jobs for some of the skilled, seasoned workers as well as competing to get some of the workers back,” said CSC economist Bob Collins.
The Hebron Project and the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project on the Lower Churchill River in Labrador have similar construction timelines and will put a strain on the provincial workforce, he said.
Traditionally Atlantic Canadian workers, particularly those from Newfoundland, have exited the region en masse for opportunities in the Alberta oilsands and for work across the country.
“The workers are in demand in all parts. If the Newfoundlanders come back then there’s going to be someone from another place that they’ll need to recruit. We don’t really have a lot of flexibility now in terms of mobility,” said Collins.
McEvoy expects some Newfoundlanders who have left the province for work or are currently working on a fly-in, fly-out basis, will return to work in the province. He expects these workers will be young workers and those close to retirement. He says that workers with young families established in other communities will probably continue working where they are already.
The Hebron Project has a gender equity and diversity program. The program will address employment and business access for the four designated groups of women, visible minorities, Aboriginal peoples and persons with disabilities.
A Women’s Employment Plan will address diversity provisions for women and a diversity plan addresses diversity provisions in the three other designated groups.
“Considering that demographically women form the largest of the four designated groups, additional focus has been placed on evaluating gender-specific considerations, notably in supporting entry into and advancement within occupational categories where women are historically under-represented. Advancement in all occupational categories is supported by the company’s focus on recruitment of people interested in a career with the company, and its practice of developing and promoting people from within,” reads the Hebron Project diversity plan.
The Hebron Project will also present challenges for the province once it is complete.
McEvoy said infrastructure investment will be needed to facilitate future opportunities after Hebron is finished.
“The infrastructure that’s put in place needs to stay and that’s going to be a challenge because it didn’t happen after Hibernia, to be a benefit to Newfoundland long-term,” he said.
He also said it’s important to keep a competitive edge in the global labour force.
“This project is a prosperous project and we just need to make sure that we keep our eye on the fact that we still need to be competitive.”
Construction on the Hebron Project began in the third quarter of 2012 and is expected to last until the second quarter of 2017.
Follow Kelly Lapointe on Twitter @DCNKelly.
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