By Tom Peters

Massive mega projects either underway or planned for Atlantic Canada offer great potential opportunities for Port of Halifax, delegates to the annual Halifax Port Days were told.

Patrick Brannon, an economist and analyst with Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, said APEC has identified 357 projects for the Atlantic region with an estimated value of $100 billion. The mega-projects over $500 million, “which drive the investment,” he said, include mining in Newfoundland and Labrador including Brazilian mining company Vale’s construction of a $2.8 billion ore processing plant in Long Harbour, NL, the Lower Churchill power project (Muskrat Falls, $6.2 billion), ExxonMobil’s Hebron offshore oil development ($8.3 billion), a $25 billion federal shipbuilding contract for Irving in Halifax, and $1.7 billion potash development and plant expansion in Sussex, NB. There is also the potential for a major tidal power development in the Bay of Fundy. “This is a record level of investment in Atlantic Canada,” Brannon said. “That doesn’t mean all of it will go ahead, but certainly it is the most we have ever seen and in the current year it’s over $12 billion being spent throughout Atlantic Canada.”

To reap the potential rewards, Port of Halifax is positioning itself well, said Brannon, especially with its current $73-million expansion and renovation of the Richmond Terminals which will be the port’s future breakbulk facility. Curtis Doiron, Commercial Manager, Logistec Stevedoring Inc., a marine services company, said Halifax’s main competition for heavy project cargo is Houston, Texas.

But, he said, Halifax is building its infrastructure to take secure opportunities offered through these projects. He applauded Halifax Port Authority’s recent agreement with the provincial government to take over the operation of the port of Sheet Harbour, which offers substantial space for bulk cargoes, general cargo storage and laydown areas.

The three-member panel in the Port Days’ first business session, which also included Pierre Poulain, Customer Support Manager for MAN Diesel & Turbo Canada in Atlantic Canada, said there are risks that face the development of these projects such as fluctuations of commodity prices, since these projects are mostly commodity driven, and the constant issue of finding sufficient skilled labour. Brannon believes the role of ensuring there is sufficient skilled labour falls under the responsibility of educational institutions, industry and government. “They have to work together to get labour in the right place so students coming out of universities and community colleges are actually going to fields where they are really needed going forward for these large projects. That is such a key role,” he said.

Patrick Bohan, Halifax Port Authority’s Manager, Business Development, said the development of these potential mega-projects “is exciting” for the Port.

“We have the infrastructure ready and the variety of capabilities coming together at the right time. It will be a big boost for our business,” he said. He added it will take a few years to ramp up for projects like the shipbuilding contract “and that will be coming on as our infrastructure [Richmond project] is completed.”

Bohan said HPA is actively marketing itself, “pursuing oil and gas, resources industries, mining, power generation, all these opportunities for Port of Halifax and Port of Sheet Harbour.”