Saturday, April 07, 2007

Williams blows smoke: No Hebron talks

I've mentioned before, most recently here, that Premier Williams likes to make casual statements as reported here:
Williams said Tuesday officials with his government and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro are in discussions with partners in the project "all the time."
He wouldn't go into details of those discussions.
Premier Williams does not specifically claim that the discussions with the partners have anything to do with Hebron although he does try to leave that impression. In fact, both government and the Hebron partners (who are also the Hibernia and Terra Nova partners: ExxonMobile, PetroCan, Chevron et al) talk all the time over operational issues, Hibernia South and other non-Hebron projects without ever talking about Hebron itself.

In fact there have been no discussions at all since the Hebron talks collapsed a year ago. The simple evidence of that is, while premier Williams tosses off vague and bland assurances that everything is under control, industry is very quick to confirm to confirm, yet again, that there are no talks ongoing at all and there haven't been any in a year.

In the Telegram today, Tim Murphy, Chevron's (almost) last man left in the province, says so explicitly:
"Nothing has changed on Hebron. There are no discussions or negotiations ongoing and none are planned. At this stage we don't know what it will take or how long it's going to take to get back to that. From our perspective, as operator, no discussions or negotiations are ongoing. We're not talking to the province about Hebron." [emphasis added]
So while Premier Williams prefers to pretend that the matter is under control, this latest story shows beyond any reasonable doubt that the government's oil development file is not under control at all.

It is way out of control; there have been no talks between government and industry on a potential $10-12 billion government-revenue project in a year.

You can't help but ask a few questions about this.

The first is, what is government waiting for? What "winning conditions" are required before opening talks that will win the province, government and people, a steady source of revenue and jobs for at least 15 years in all? It's not like the federal government will put through the kind of expropriative legislation the Premier wants because they won't. And if the goal is to await far higher oil prices, that's a very risky and irresponsible game at best and won't make a difference since any deal would take that into account.

Second, how is it possible to ever reach a resolution to this matter unless and until government engages in talks. One this is for sure: it is impossible to negotiate unless there are talks and every day there are no talks is another day farther in the future that this project will come to pass.

Third, since there are no talks, why does the Premier want to provide the illusion that there are some kind of back-channel communications. (If there are then they are so secret that industry is not privy to therm.) It seems so uncharacteristic that Premier Williams is simply not announcing to the world that there are no talks and there will be no talks, unless and until some kind of preconditions are met.

Instead we have a sort of chagrined dissembling; none of the bombastic pride the Premier usually derives from conflict. Let's hope that's not because this conflict has already been fought and lost.

Finally we have to wonder: if industry says they are not talking to government and government is saying they are talking to industry, who is Premier Williams actually talking to?

No comments: