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Countdown is on for tow of massive Hebron oil platform to field off Newfoundland

Last Updated Apr 18, 2017 at 6:00 pm EDT

The Hebron Platform, anchored in Trinity Bay, N.L., is shown on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, as a pre-tow ceremony was held aboard the platform. Next month the structure will be towed to the Hebron Oil Field. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

BULL ARM, N.L. – It was made with more concrete than the Empire State Building — and it moves.

Dignitaries cut ceremonial mooring chains on the massive Hebron oil platform Tuesday, marking the wind-up of construction for a $14-billion project that employed more than 7,500 people at its height.

Geoff Parker, senior project manager, said a slip form for the gravity-based structure tanks, which sit mostly under water, used more concrete than the famed New York City skyscraper. The base is 130 metres in diameter, required 132,000 cubic metres of concrete and has 52 well slots.

Combined with the topsides, where about 220 people will live and work, the structure towers 230 metres high and weighs 750,000 tonnes. It will be towed next month from Bull Arm on Trinity Bay to its destination in the Jeanne D’Arc Basin about 350 kilometres southeast of St. John’s.

The platform was designed to handle up to 150,000 barrels of crude a day. There’s a sprawling helipad. And a fibre optic cable will transmit data to a control room in St. John’s that replicates the one on board.

“We’re on track to be setting down the platform in May, then we’ll be drilling in the summer and producing oil by the end of the year,” Parker told reporters.

“This is a large, complex project,” he added, noting that various components were built around the province and the world using cutting-edge technology.

The Hebron oilfield is estimated to contain more than 700 million barrels of oil.

Total expenses almost tripled and oil prices have dropped since the project was first announced 10 years ago at an estimated cost of $5 billion.

The governing Liberals say it will generate more than $10 billion in royalties and benefits over the next 20 years — less than half the estimated $23 billion once hailed by the former Tory government.

Paul Dwyer, the offshore installation manager, said workers logged 40 million hours without a lost-time injury.

He called that an “amazing” achievement on a project that will reap dividends over the next two decades.

“The industry is still growing,” he said in an interview.

Hebron project partners led by ExxonMobil Canada include Chevron Canada, Suncor Energy, Statoil Canada and provincial Crown corporation Nalcor Energy with a 4.9 per cent equity stake.

The province acquired the stake after a battle over revenue sharing between former premier Danny Williams and ExxonMobil.

Hebron will be the fourth producing site off Newfoundland and will offset waning output at Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose.

Provincial NDP Leader Earle McCurdy acknowledged it’s a proud milestone for those who pulled off an impressive engineering feat. Still, he said money spent on Hebron was siphoned from other priorities and, with lower oil prices, won’t be quite the anticipated cash cow.

“I think we could have done better on the economic returns from it,” he said in an interview.

“It was based on a high level of optimism about where oil prices would be,” McCurdy said of the deal struck by the former Progressive Conservative government under Williams. It pays minimal royalties in earlier years, until development costs are recovered, in exchange for higher rates later on.

McCurdy also thinks the province needs a clear strategy to prepare for the shift toward cleaner, renewable energy. At least some of the Hebron earnings should be used “to develop technology to minimize the environmental impact and to … minimize our carbon footprint generally,” he added.

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