Contractor unhappy with oil bidding process

Business association says CNLOPB not ensuring level playing field for N.L. companies

Daniel MacEachern
Published on August 1, 2014

A St. John’s businessman says the provincial offshore regulator isn’t ensuring local companies get a fair crack at oil and gas contracts.

Gerry Puddister, shareholder and manager of fleet operations for Puddister Trading Co., which owns and operates passenger and freight vessels on the south coast of the province, told The Telegram his company bid on a contract for personnel transportation for the Hebron project.

Puddister Trading had a shot at it, he says, until Kiewit-Kvaerner Contractors, which is building the gravity base structure for Hebron, withdrew the call for proposals

Instead Kiewit-Kvaerner bought ferries from Quebec and then tendered for managing the ferries.

“So what you have, is you’ve got vessels from Quebec coming into Newfoundland and Labrador, taking work from a vessel that’s already in Newfoundland and Labrador, owned by a Newfoundland and Labrador company,” Puddister told The Telegram.

Puddister said he thinks the province’s offshore regulator, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB), isn’t doing enough to ensure a level playing field for businesses within the province to compete with firms from elsewhere.

“The petroleum board is called the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Petroleum Board. It’s not called the Canada-Quebec Petroleum Board, the Canada-Ontario Petroleum Board, or the Canada-Nova Scotia, New Brunswick Petroleum Board.”

Puddister admits he was told bids on the contract didn’t have what Kiewit-Kvaerner was looking for — “They weren’t happy with anything they saw,” he said — and the petroleum board’s job is to regulate the offshore industry and in fact doesn’t, as it notes on its website, “guarantee the participation of Canadian and Newfoundland and Labrador workers and businesses.”

But Puddister took his case to the Business Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, a local networking group, which then sent a letter earlier this month to the mayors of St. John’s and Mount Pearl, the St. John’s Board of Trade, Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley and Premier Tom Marshall.

In it, the association claims Newfoundland and Labrador-owned companies are losing contracts to out-of-province companies and calls on the board to “make rules and enforce them” to prevent that from happening.

“It is only right that N.L.-owned and operated companies with a long history in our economy come first on a level playing field where the rules of engagement come first on a level playing field where the rules of engagement are fair for equal opportunity,” wrote Donald Coady, the association’s president.

When reached by The Telegram, Coady declined to comment — saying the association isn’t an advocacy group — but noted Puddister’s situation was the reason for writing the letter.

“We have a member who has an issue, basically regarding how a piece of work was awarded,” he said.

“We agreed that we would not champion the cause, but, to his interest, send a letter specifically that says we support business being done in the province where possible, and in speaking to the overall climate of the industry and how that needs to be something people need to pay closer attention to.”

Puddister was due to meet with a representative today from Mount Pearl’s economic development office to discuss the issue, and a spokesman from the board declined to comment, but said the board would be happy to clarify its mandate with the Business Association.

“The CNLOPB would be pleased to discuss our mandate and our approach to delivering it with the Business Association of Newfoundland and Labrador,” wrote Sean Kelly in an email to The Telegram.

A request for comment Thursday from Kiewit-Kvaerner was not returned.

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel