Why it’s time to look beyond our borders for offshore oil business opportunities

It’s time more local companies look beyond their own borders to build their businesses

Unfortunately, with few exceptions, our local service and supply companies have had limited success expanding to other petroleum jurisdictions. The reality is that most have been too busy supporting industrial projects locally to consider exporting.

In the 1990s, Norwegian, British and French businesses arrived on our shores to share their global knowledge and experience to help develop the Hibernia offshore oil project. When you consider what we’ve achieved since then and the limited industrial projects on our horizon, it’s time for us to do the same.

Can we differentiate ourselves in an extremely competitive global marketplace? No doubt our harsh environment expertise (including logistics, R&D, ice management, ocean sciences and marine operations) is strong, unique and offers value. We’ve built a solid industry from the ground up, including a skilled and engaged workforce. We also have significant expertise supporting large, global, industrial projects. So yes, I believe we do have a competitive niche that we can use to our export advantage.

(Guyana) reminds us that there are other new petroleum regions offering partnerships and opportunities that could be a good fit for our expertise and businesses models

What jurisdictions should we target and how will we market ourselves? The answer to that question might lie in a further query: why are we attending the same international oil and gas trade shows, year after year? For instance, over the past 25-plus years, local companies have been travelling to Houston for the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC). With at least 70,000 people in attendance, it’s hard for us to stand out when global organizations have invested millions in their brands. It’s also difficult to compete with the well-established, larger companies from the North Sea or the Gulf of Mexico. While we shouldn’t give up on shows like OTC as the global positioning is important, I wonder if trying to compete on such a large scale is delivering the best results.

I started pondering these issues while working on a recent trade mission to Guyana. Hosted by the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association, over 20 Atlantic Canadian companies involved in our oil and gas sector met with Guyana companies during matchmaking sessions and learned about one of the world’s newest and most exciting petroleum plays.

Located in northern South America, Guyana is an English-speaking country that is about to be transformed as a result of significant offshore petroleum discoveries. Since 2015, Exxon Mobil has discovered between 2.25 and 2.75 billion barrels of oil offshore Guyana, and they plan to be in production by 2020. And there is an expectation other companies will find more discoveries. Its government is now faced with a massive responsibility to prepare and educate its population from the ground-up, so it can fully realize the potential of its petroleum resources.

Guyana reminds me of Newfoundland and Labrador in the early 1970s, with its limited infrastructure, high out-migration and challenged economy. The people are fiercely proud and thoroughly enjoy political debate. They also have high expectations relating to local content and are eager to build capacity through partnerships so they too can contribute to the development of their local petroleum industry.

There are risks and social issues associated with Guyana, but it’s an enticing option for Newfoundland and Labrador companies looking to export their services. It also reminds us that there are other new petroleum regions offering partnerships and opportunities that could be a good fit for our expertise and businesses models.

In the search for new exporting opportunities, what can we learn from local companies that are demonstrating they’re commercially viable and have the leadership skills to enter and succeed in international markets? What can we do to support and accelerate their growth? Should we consider new partnerships and joining forces to be more competitive and access new markets? Are there industry trends where it makes sense to collaborate?

I think there are, and I’m going to tell you about one of them. The petroleum industry is undergoing a massive transformation implementing new ways of performing through digital technology, known as integrated operations. In my opinion, we either get on board the digital bus quickly or risk becoming irrelevant.

When you consider what we’ve achieved over the past 30 years and the reality of our economic outlook, the time is right to challenge our traditional thinking when it comes to how we conduct our business and exporting. I know I am.

Caron Hawco, ABC, PMP, is a communication and business strategy consultant specializing in natural resources, public affairs, diversity, business development, facilitation and media relations.

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