Can skills acquired in the offshore oil industry aid desperately needed diversification?
One of the main drivers behind Newfoundland and Labrador’s local content laws was to build local capacity and create an internationally competitive industry that would support the economic sustainability of our society. But as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of first oil at the Hibernia offshore field and what we’ve proudly achieved, I am reflecting on our current economic reality. Are we on the path to achieving our original local content goals?
It’s no secret that Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy is heavily reliant on the petroleum industry and extremely vulnerable to its ebbs and flows. The recent downturn in the industry has had a severe impact on our economy leading us to very tough times. Some of us are now forced to make substantial changes to our business models and careers because waiting for the petroleum industry to recover is not a viable solution. Diversification is mission critical.
I recently worked with a European company that has supplied the North Sea’s oil and gas industry for decades. …The business knew its stuff so it could successfully pivot into new territory. Newfoundland and Labrador can do the same thing.
Recently, I’ve been delighted to see a growing number of businesses diversifying and exporting into new marketplaces. However, I do wonder how many of us are leveraging our oil and gas expertise to access new and different industries.
I recently worked with a European company that has supplied the North Sea’s oil and gas industry for decades. Over the past few years, they have had no choice but to look for new opportunities and move into aquaculture. No doubt it was a risky move. But it was a change or die scenario for this successful family-run business. Fortunately, servicing the highly exacting and demanding petroleum industry meant it offered world-class experience, strong management systems and significant marine-based expertise. The business knew its stuff so it could successfully pivot into new territory. Newfoundland and Labrador can do the same thing.
We can do this because over the past 20-plus years, we’ve developed world-class expertise in project management and engineering, supporting multi-billion dollar petroleum and mining developments. We are considered global experts in cold ocean operations, with our advanced research and development capacity in ocean technology, solid marine expertise, supporting remote petroleum platforms, while ensuring the safety of the environment and our people. That is no small feat.
The fact is, we know cold-ocean and harsh environments better than most. So are we considering other industries, such as the renewable or clean technology sectors, where we can apply this expertise and know-how? How about maneuvering into aquaculture? Could we possibly solve some or the world’s pressing problems related to the effects of climate change on our oceans? I know it sounds lofty, but perhaps it is time to double down and leverage our significant, world-class expertise.
Moving into new industries does not mean abandoning oil and gas altogether. The industry has significantly contributed to the advancement of our people and economy, and it will remain a critical driver in our economy for years. But we need to push our comfort zones and consider moving onto new frontiers. That’s already happening in some areas. I’ve been impressed with the regional consortium of Atlantic Canada organizations and companies competing to establish a cold ocean super cluster for Canada. They hope to capture a piece of the Government of Canada’s $950-million innovation fund to encourage businesses to invest more in R&D. The federal government is attempting to create Silicon Valley-style hubs of industry to drive future growth and jobs, focusing on sectors where the country is positioned to compete globally. The Atlantic Canada bid is focusing on digital ocean technologies for industries such as aquaculture, the fishery, offshore oil and gas, and clean energy. This is an idea that is long overdue.
The oil and gas industry is changing rapidly, so the status quo is simply not an option and Newfoundland and Labrador is being forced to change. We can no longer afford to put all our eggs into that petroleum basket. It’s time to consider new and emerging industries and apply our well-earned know-how. Fortunately, we have much to offer.