Thursday, August 23, 2007

Oil Slick

Danny Williams was smooth and slick Wednesday as he announced the memorandum of understanding between NL and Hebron industry partners. At 70% in the polls he certainly don't really need a big announcement like this to put him over the top in the fall election, but some will say that he's also being slippery. So far the M.O.U. has been given very favorable assessments by some key analysts. Economist Wade Locke gave it a clear thumbs up on CBC TV earlier, mentioned short term benefits of job creation, oil industry momentum and spin-off industry development. He also said that the risk associated with the Hebron project is acceptable, and "it's hard to find something negative about this development." "It could add $8.1 billion to the province's coffers until 2035." MUN's Steve Tomblin expressed similar thoughts and had a positive tone about the M.O.U. in a CTV interview.

A gravity-based-structure (gbs) is to be constructed in Newfoundland, similar to the Hibernia platform, and again will need to employ 1000's of workers to construct the gbs. Everything sounds very much like this 1990 Hibernia news clip, including a less optimistic Wade Locke, who said that the Hibernia development would not improve the standard of living for the "average Newfoundlander".

Hebron could be the second largest oil field in the Jeanne d'Arc Basin, producing from 400 - 700 millions barrels of oil in its lifetime. Hibernia was estimated to have approximately 1 billion barrels of oil reserves. There is only the potential of the upper limit but because the oil is a heavier and lesser-quality crude than the other three oil fields - and thus, the price will be less than what Hibernia can get.

Chevron Canada's VP, James Bates was generally positive in his interview on Here & Now but careful not to divulge any details or show much exuberance about the M.O.U. One sensed that yes indeed plenty more detail had to be inked, and that the "deal" could change. How good the Hebron M.O.U. is may become more apparent in months from now. Give or take a couple of hundred $million, it's still a provincial opportunity to complete infrastructure projects, make a considerable payment on the debt, and maybe even allow the possibility of NL financing the development of Lower Churchill hydro besides developing hydro-carbons.

Hebron sounds great for the province in terms of jobs, the province's financial situation, and industry spin-off. Some ex-patriots will come back for employment, the outmigration trend will slow during the gbs construction phase. The level of celebrations will vary from person to person, group to group, region to region. A couple of weeks ago a local radio station ran an interview with some local (St. John's?) business person who referred to the current time of being without the Hebron deal as being the "party's over." For many average Newfoundlanders and Labradorians the question has been, what party was that? So it is best that people are realistic about this good development. There is such a wide variety of talents, strengths, and skill sets in our province, and many may not see immediate work opportunities, so a common sense piece of advice is to think ahead. What skills will be in demand? What services will people need? There will be an increase in oil related construction, so what products, services, activities will people want?

Newfoundland and Labrador won't be another Alberta anytime soon, but it's always good to see the potential and promise of a large economic development.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Snapshot of Rushoon, Newfoundland

Update (more pictures here from 2008). Also, click here to see a panoramic shot of Rushoon. It is still not the entire community but it will give you an idea of how the community looks from a different hilltop. Be sure to click the picture to enlarge it.

The town of Rushoon. The picture shows much of the place but the older part near the harbour is hidden behind the right hill. The name may have come from the French word "ruisseau", meaning stream. The river runs parallel to the road winding through the community.

First settled around 1830 by a couple of fishermen from England, it gradually grew in size. By 1921 the population was 130, and swelled to 232 by 1945, a good reflection of healthy fish stocks, and source of reliable work. With the help of resettlement transplants in the 1960's from other Placentia Bay places, the population was over 500 in the 1970s. But in 1991, the population had declined to 482, 442 by 1996, and 359 by 2001. Last year, 2006, the number of "Rushoonites" was 319, an 11% drop from five years previous. (Here's a link to compare NL community population for 1991, 1996, and 2001 (NL Stats)).

For most of the 2oth century Placentia Bay was a thriving multi-lane seaway as fishermen from Rushoon and every other community traveled to their fishing grounds. People risked their lives at sea, worked hard in fish stages, farming, cutting firewood, and lumber, basically surviving. Young people also made huge contributions to family chores. One 90 year old woman recalls as a "tween" going to the frozen well and chopping through ice to get water for the household. It was expected. To name a few, other regular chores included gathering firewood, helping with fish by cleaning, carrying, salting, and spreading for drying, and planting/harvesting vegetables. For many years in the early 1900s, the nearby community of Baine Harbour had the school. Students walked a round trip of approximately 5-6 miles daily for schooling and they were often expected to bring junks of firewood for the pot belly stove.

Like many fishing communities, there were tragedies at sea. Having just swept through the Maritimes, and leaving 86 dead, and communications lines down, The August Gale of 1927 gave no warning to people on Newfoundland's South coast. Of the 23 fishermen lost in Placentia Bay alone, three were from the tiny settlement of Rushoon.

(Rushoon harbour meeting Placentia Bay)

It was decades away from getting electricity. In fact, the first switch was pulled in 1967, and thus, the lantern was no longer a necessity, but more a museum piece. From the 1960s and 70s especially, more and more people left the island for work, usually to the mainland, and out West, working with the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1980, another major tragedy rocked Rushoon. Seven young workers who worked with the CPR near Swift Current, SK were being transported on a bus back from a days work, when a collision occurred between the bus and a tanker carrying hot tar. Four of the seven were killed, including two brothers. Sudden grief devastated not only Rushoon but other surrounding communities.

In years since, fewer people were going away to work with the CPR. More and more people sought trades, certified skills, and university, and is has been a continuing trend for many years now.

Despite the life threatening work on the water, uninsulated homes, high infant mortality, and many other daily hardships of life, the community survived and even grew. Unfortunately the population trend is downward nowadays. Leaving home is a necessity for work, income and experience. Depending on the individual it may be ideal, or not. Though compared to leaving home for work on the sea, the risk is minimal.

Looking back at how communities came to be, it makes one appreciate the hard work ethic, the unbreakable spirit, the determination of generations gone by, and brings to mind the saying, where there's a will, there's a way.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Rivers and Fuming Subside

There were two silly reports following the recent floodings in Dunville and area, and Conception Bay. The first was reporting that Harper's visit to the naturally imposed, unsought, and spontaneous road river damage, was a surprise. Judging by news video it was pretty significant damage,
and worthy as any disaster zone visit by a PM to view firsthand. He wasn't obligated to come but did. No surprise at all, and no big deal. Second, CTV reported that Danny Williams was fuming because Harper did not let him know he was coming. Again, by the interglobalmental temperature this year, which is see your breath cool, it's no surprise that Stephen Harper did not ring up Danny to say , "hey buds, see you at Dunville at 10, and we'll throw on some moose sausages on the grill after." Yet again, no big deal anyway. It was not surprising he did not contact the Premier, and in a way, it's not surprising Danny said he's disappointed. However, "fuming" may or may not have been an appropriate term to use. What does matter is for repairs to be made to road work, sewer lines, drain systems, and an organized arrangement to help people where insurance does not cover natural disaster damage. The childish political flying words should be water under the bridge.