Address to convocation

by Dr. Wilbert Hill Hopper

Memorial University, St. John's

(June 5, 1997, Gazette)

I am honored to join Memorial University's 1997 graduating class in this landmark year in the history of Newfoundland. Please accept my heartfelt thanks for the recognition you have bestowed on me today. This is not something I accept lightly; it brings with it the responsibility to live up to the standards this community and this university have set for all of Canada. I am humbled to receive the acceptance and fellowship of this university. It was built and is inspired by the energy, ambition and aspirations of thousands of Newfoundlanders. Their meritorious lives bear testimony to a decency of character, grounded in a legacy of the physical, moral and cultural accomplishments of 500 years.

Alberta's greatest poet was an Icelandic homesteader and dairy farmer named Stephan G. Stepansson. Ninety years ago he described the way his Scandinavian forbearers looked westward across the Atlantic and saw Canada as a place:

Where calm and sun never end,

for there the good season has found

a sanctuary

with freedom and compassion

-- all that is best.

Human hope turns its tired eyes

from the east to dream about you,

because you provide good

to all who loved

you fervently and who find in you

fulfillment and a home.

You are a place where life is fulfilled

and able to root,

the place for which the restless spirit


When I read those words, I recognize Newfoundland, as much as I recognize any other Canadian place. Part of our unity is the common dreams that drew us together.

In recent years, the people of this island have shown incredible courage and resourcefulness in the face of economic, social and political change. The indomitable spirit of the men and women of the fishery confronted by life-changing obstacles is noble and inspiring. It is my wish that this spirit will never be broken. It is a paradox that, as the men and women of the fishery seek ways to restore, protect, preserve their livelihood and way of life, these are also heady days for Newfoundland's mineral resource industries.

In the words of a famous Newfoundland poet, E. J. Pratt,

Newfoundland's tides once again...

Are pounding at stubborn gates,

That they might run

Within the sluices of men's hearts...

And teach the sea's strong voice

To learn the harmonies of new floods.

The new harmonies for the future of Newfoundland are being written by the geologists and miners at Voisey's Bay and by the offshore seismic crews, the men and women on the drilling platforms, and, soon, the crews on the tankers who will carry off a new cargo of wealth from under the sea bed.

As oil production facilities near completion, Hibernia is finally understood for what it is. Not some geological oddity, propped up by political rigging and misplaced economic optimism. Rather it is the first step to capitalize on the discoveries of the 1970s and l980s.

Hibernia is just the beginning. As Chancellor John Crosbie wrote a few months ago in Oilweek magazine: "With the right mixture of encouragement and good administration, the potential for a great leap forward in the economic prospects of Newfoundland exists as we enter the 21st Century."

My experience, as a geologist, corporate executive and public servant tells me that Newfoundland has just begun to realize the scope and scale of its natural resource base, and the wealth that it will create. This wealth associated with offshore oil resources brings with it great opportunities and responsibilities for Newfoundlanders.

The search for oil is not merely a technical process; it is elemental; a unique blend of sciences and gut feel conditioned by experience.

In the words of a great geologist -- "Oil is found in the minds of men."

This university has a crucial role to play in development of the petroleum geosciences -- this includes geology, geophysics, reservoir engineering, remote seisming, geochemistry, basin modelling, and so forth.

Without ready access to this knowledge base, without a community of such expertise one cannot go on to develop the drilling and production systems, the petroleum economists; and, yes, the investment community that together represent a fully mature petroleum community. Without these, government's attempts to manage and to maximize economics benefits will be made more difficult.

Newfoundland has made certain very wise investments, often with the help of industry, to build up a strong marine engineering community and is now starting to reap design, engineering and fabrication benefits. Your magnificent contribution to the construction of the Hibernia GBS is proof enough of the skills of your tradesmen. The recent innovative labor agreement at Bull Arm and the new fabrication work won in free competition by the Marystown Shipyard show that your workers are well aware of the need to give due consideration to international competitive factors.

But again I repeat, the truly comprehensive inclusion of oil into Newfoundland society cannot take place without mastering the petroleum geosciences. You should be, and be known as, a world- class centre in the teaching, research and application of these disciplines.

So I urge this university to take the lead by creating a centre of excellence -- a centre in which the petroleum geosciences are united with the engineering technologies and with petroleum economics so that your resource development strategies can stand on a solid footing. Knowledge in these areas is a precursor for the attainment of maximum benefits. The oil companies must be seen as a necessary part of a team effort but not the sole possessor of knowledge and wisdom.

This will not be easy, even though, with the Centre for Earth Resources Research (CERR), the Memorial University Seismic Imaging Consortium (MUSIC) and the undergraduate petroleum program, a good start has been made. It will take a sizable public investment and much hard work but the prize will be well worth it.

Norwegian experience in this regard is important. Years ago when the oil industry became active in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, Norway was mostly unprepared for the rush of exploration and development activity. There was however a real understanding by government that to derive the optimum benefits from oil developments, for the people of Norway, aggressive action had to be taken.

The government formed a national oil company to participate in all aspects of the industry, as an investor and operator. The government encouraged and organized Norwegian private sector engineering firms, service companies, and equipment suppliers in a way that made them more competitive with non-Norwegian firms. Finally the government required that private sector operators use every effort to contract with Norwegian firms for services and supplies -- and not always at the lowest bid level. All this was done in a way that did not drive away national or international investment.

Today, Norway stands out as a small nation with a high level of offshore technology. which they now market very successfully throughout the world.

Over the past century, major leaps forward in the petroleum industry where sparked by advances in technology. In the North Sea major advances in technology have resulted in increased production from older fields, additional production from field extensions and development of new fields that previously had not been considered economic. Fields with reserves of less than 50 million barrels are now being developed. Technology has resulted in lower costs and increased capability and oil recovery. From this viewpoint there is no question in my mind that more oil will be recovered from Hibernia, Terra Nova and Whiterose than is currently conservatively booked by the corporations involved. To make a fearless prediction; Hibernia will produce -- over its life -- between 1.2 to 1.5 billion barrels of oil, Terra Nova will produce 600 million barrels and Whiterose 350 million barrels.

I have been on both sides of the fence; as a public servant developing policy and as a petroleum executive. Let me share two lessons.

First, as members of the community of Newfoundland: a petroleum-producing region as large and significant as the Grand Banks will attract, already has attracted, world-wide interest -- and there are people planning to get involved who have no interest in Newfoundland, except for the oil they can extract. You must insist that jobs, careers and benefits flow into Newfoundland, not away from it. You should make no apology for this. Do not surrender your birthright. The university degree you hold in your hand gives you the credibility and the leverage to insist that Newfoundlanders take the jobs and create the businesses to deal with the requirements of this industry.

Second, as professionals: throw away the carefully-crafted career plan. If you want to lead, not to follow, if you want to achieve all you are capable of, take risks, challenge yourself. You really have no way of knowing where you will be 40 years from now. The careful plans you have made may be safe, reliable and comforting, for now. Tomorrow they may hold you back. Many of you, in pursuit of your careers, will leave this rock. For many of you, the absence will be an apprenticeship, and when you return, the creation of the Newfoundland of tomorrow will become your life's work. I advise you not to take the safe, easy way. There are no safe easy ways to take Newfoundland from where it is today to where it can be when it is your turn to stand in my place and give a convocation address.

You have an open, empty sea ahead. Your boat is small. You have no reliable charts. There are brigands over the horizon. There may even be the dragons feared by early mariners. There are more storms than calm.

But cast off with the tide, pray for fair winds and don't look back, because all that is behind you are the reefs and shoals close to shore. The harbor you seek is far ahead. You will get there, if you have the courage to embark and to remain committed to the voyage.

May you succeed in all that you do, and may Newfoundland and Canada prosper.

Thank you, and Godspeed.