St. John's, Newfoundland — Offshore oil riches may be always around the corner in the political fog of New- foundland's future. Just in case not all the wells bring a bonanza, the province has other resources to fall back on other than fish or fuel:
* Mining. With more land opening up for claim-staking in recent years, mineral companies are poking the province like a pincushion. About 60 companies spent $17 million ($14.5 million US) on mineral exploration in 1980, almost a 100 percent increase over 1978. Being looked at are deposits of copper, lead, zinc, tungsten, and gold.
Two ironore mines in western Labrador, which account for 85 percent of Newfoundland's mining, are running at near capacity despite layoffs at pits in Quebec. Between them, the mines produce some 25 million metric tons of ore a year, more than half Canada's total production.
Still, the mining industry is taking some hard knocks. By year's end two mines in the northeastern part of the island (one asbes- tos, the other primarily copper) may close.
* Hydro. Hydroelectric power will outlast Newfoundland's oil and, for this reason, provincial leaders are eager to end their bare-knuckles battle with Quebec over the sale of electricity from the upper Churchill Falls.
Under a 65-year agreement signed before oil prices skyrocketed, Quebec takes the energy equivalent of 70 million barrels of oil per year from the Labrador site, paying what amounts to $1.80 (Canadian) per barrel. With jacked-up oil prices, Newfoundland figures Quebece is making a $700 million ($595 million US) a year ''profit'' on the deal.
Two court cases are under way to resolve the dispute, which will probably hold up two proposed hydro sites on the lower Churchill, both of which could deliver 2,300 megawatts (about the equivalent of two average-sized nuclear plants).
The excess power would need to be exported through Quebec to reach the US.
* Forestry. The pulp-and-paper industry has been one of the strongest sinews in a limp economy. Abitibi-Price Inc., part of a giant Canadian paper firm, opened a newsprint mill in western Newfoundland this year. The Stephenville-based plant, Newfoundland's third newsprint operation, was converted from an old linerboard mill, boosting the province's newsprint-producing capacity to about 1 million tons a year.
That's about all the island's mainly black spruce and balsam fir forests can support. The pesty spruce budworm has been chomping through about a half million tons of pulpwood a year. To combat it, government and industry are beginning a massive spray program this year, and some 2 million seedlings will be planted to thicken forests. The chilly climate slows the growth cycle (about 75 years compared with 40 in parts of the US), but the wood is denser and more fibrous - good for paper.