By Tom Peters

The potential discovery of a major oil field off the coast of Nova Scotia would be an economic “game changer,” says Les MacIntyre, CEO of Superport Marine Services in Mulgrave and President of McGregor Geoscience in Halifax.

In an address to delegates attending Sydney Harbour Ports Day, MacIntyre outlined how major geographical changes in the earth over millions of years created large oil regions under the oceans. These regions, he said, are in the Gulf of Mexico and off Brazil, West Africa and Madagascar. A fifth region is believed to be off Nova Scotia. MacIntyre, who has mapped ocean floors all over the world, said the oil would be difficult to recover, but stated that in the last 20 years the technology has been developed to carry out the work. The challenges, he said, are associated with drilling in extreme depths of up to 3,500 metres. Then, because of these geological formations, there are layers of mud, sand and rocks to penetrate as well as thick salt deposits. With these water depths and layers of material, the oil could be three to five kilometres below the drill rig floor, he said.


MacIntyre said large deposits of high quality oil have been found in the Gulf, Brazil and West Africa. Gas has been discovered in Madagascar and there is optimism oil will be found off Nova Scotia. The region off Nova Scotia has not been explored as yet, but BP Exploration (Canada) and Shell are planning to spend a combined $1 billion off the province’s coast for exploration. Some seismic work has already been completed.

MacIntyre said if Nova Scotia’s offshore does contain such vast oil deposits, drilling programs will require large amounts of prefabrication work and support services. The magnitude of investment would be huge and would be a “game changer” for the province, he added.

In her presentation to delegates on the state of global shipping and its effects on North American ports, Madeleine Paquin, President and CEO of Logistec Inc., outlined her views on the bulk, breakbulk and container sectors. She believes that although there will be future opportunities in bulk and breakbulk cargoes mainly in Asia, trends in container shipping will have the greatest impact on North American ports. “In terms of containers, today’s largest vessels require 50-foot draft terminals with post-Panamax cranes, proximity to consumer markets and fluidity and efficiency of inland logistics,” she said. But, she added, some East Coast ports don’t have channels deep enough to handle such vessels. “However, ports alone cannot provide the success of the port calls. Success depends on the fluidity and efficiency of the whole supply chain. The increased volumes loaded and discharged will require larger terminals, higher gate capabilities and fluid intermodal services.”

Under the changing global trade regime, Paquin believes there are a number of opportunities for the port of Sydney in the bulk sector as a coal transshipment facility with investment planned for the Atlantic Canada Bulk Terminal and potential as an export port for possible future Donkin coal development; in shipbuilding and repair; as a potential site for Severstal Iron Beneficiation Group’s iron ore pelletization production facility; and at the Sydport Industrial Park where there is potential for manufacturing and service firms to support offshore oil and gas development.

However, Paquin did not wade too heavily into Sydney’s hopes to build a major container terminal which would act mainly as a transshipment hub for the large carriers.

“The container shipping industry is currently faced with significant challenges. P3 (MSC, Maersk and CMA CGM) and other consortiums are getting larger and more complex,” she said. “Transshipment centres continue to be utilized to feed North-South destinations and points of origin. These have been established in tropical zones as natural hubs for North-South trade routes. Will the need arise for more northern transshipment points? The jury is out, and more time is needed to assess such opportunities,” she said.

Dr. Andrew Swanson with the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment at Cape Breton University, said Sydney is in an advantageous position as a port for future Arctic shipping. Global warming, he said, continues to reduce Arctic ice and more shipping companies are looking at the Arctic route as a seasonal lane for cargo movement to and from Asia. He said Sydney would be a natural port for the eastern part of the Arctic route. With open water predicted through the Northwest Passage by 2040, Swanson said Sydney could be a port for northern supply and development; a base for Arctic tour cruises and be the eastern starting point for rail and highway networks to major North American markets. He said with the development of Arctic trade routes, Sydney would also be closer to many major Asian ports than several major East Coast ports.