The Petroleum Exploration Enhancement Program (PEEP) was introduced in 2007, at the same time as the province’s first-ever Energy Plan.
The PEEP was originally budgeted for $5 million over two years, with $2 million to be spent in the first year. However, over four years since it was announced, only $2.1 million has been spent.
The program is aimed at supporting scientific endeavours that might encourage future, onshore oil and gas exploration in western Newfoundland.
Funding is put to projects that increase or promote geoscience knowledge — gathering new data acquisition, analytical techniques and technology deployment. Exploration drilling is not funded.
The Department of Natural Resources was asked about the lagging timeline for program spending.
“While the program did generate a strong interest, many of the initial applications were more of a commercial nature focused on data collection on specific licences or requests to support the purchase of capital equipment,” stated a representative for the department.
“All applications were carefully reviewed by the department to ensure they met the program criteria before funding was awarded.”
As PEEP surpassed its originally planned two-year term, it was extended to a five-year program. Despite the extension, distributed funding came in at just $1.36 million as of April 2010.
According to the department, sessions discussing the PEEP and the application process were offered for industry representatives and academics in the spring of 2010.
Meanwhile, PEEP-funded projects continue to be a positive topic of discussion with industry players and agencies in western Newfoundland.
“We have been seeking creative ways to advance the tremendous potential for onshore oil and gas development since we took office,” stated then-Natural Resources minister Kathy Dunderdale on the event of the program’s introduction in 2007.
“A recurring theme in discussions with our industry partners has been the continuing need for high-quality geoscientific information that would allow companies to identify the best prospects for drilling.”
To date, PEEP has assisted more than 15 scientific efforts in funding highly technical work — from “fluorescence microscopy” to “diagenesis studies.”
Some examples of funded projects: a study of the “diagenetic history and porosity evolution of Upper Carboniferous sandstones in the Deer Lake Basin,” helping to understand oil and gas potential in the Deer Lake area (receiving $109,200), the rebox and transfer of core samples from Pasadena to Paradise ($50,000) and “seismic reprocessing of lithprobe data,” providing a clearer picture of potential locations for drilling in Western Newfoundland ($19,300).
The contribution of $125,900 in funding to study “hydrothermal dolomitization and porosity development” in part of the region helped that project team fund a postdoctoral position — ultimately bringing Dr. James Conliffe from Ireland to Newfoundland and Labrador.
Conliffe told The Telegram the PEEP funding led to three peer-reviewed publications in international journals based on the research and a number of publications on related projects at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
“This funding enabled us to do some really interesting research, both from a scientific and economic point of view,” he said. He also said he has since applied for, and been awarded, PEEP funding for a new project.
“It is my opinion that such funding is vital in the development of potential petroleum projects in western Newfoundland as well as attracting, training and keeping scientists in MUN who can aid in the economic development of the province, not just in relation to petroleum exploration in western Newfoundland, but with offshore oil exploration and mineral exploration.”
He noted the geochemistry research being completed has a “wide range of applications.”
There has been no commitment to date from the provincial government to continue accepting applications for PEEP funding past 2011-2012.