British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell is brimming with hope that the Canadian government is about to remove the barrier to exploration in the Queen Charlotte Islands basin.
He said a decision to end almost 40 years of federal and provincial moratoriums should be possible "within the next two to three weeks."
Campbell is in Ottawa today and tomorrow to press his case for unlocking the offshore with federal Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal, who has indicated a willingness to lift the ban.
"If we can develop our resources and do it in an environmentally sustainable way, then I would be open to looking at exploration offshore British Columbia," Dhaliwal has said.
Campbell said he will deliver a report by an independent panel of scientists on the feasibility of developing the offshore, along with the recommendations of his government caucus, neither of which has been made public.
"We are trying to work with the federal government so we can outline a long-term process, or a process that will get us through to the scientific requirements we need," Campbell said.
He said there has been some contact with aboriginal leaders in British Columbia, since the Haida First Nation filed a court claim last month for ownership of the Queen Charlotte Islands and surrounding waters.
Preliminary estimates by the Geological Survey of Canada say the Charlotte Basin, which is believed to hold one of Canada's greatest untapped reservoirs of oil and gas, could hold 9.8 billion barrels of oil and 25.9 trillion cubic feet of gas.
The offshore moratorium was first imposed by the federal government in 1959, lifted in 1966 to allow Shell Canada Ltd. to drill 14 wells with "inconclusive" results and reimposed in 1972.
Campbell said lifting the moratorium is a high priority for his government as it faces a C$4 billion budget deficit this year and searches for new sources of economic activity.
But he said the Charlotte leaseholders, Shell Canada, Petro-Canada and Chevron Canada Resources, will show "nothing but passing interest" in the offshore until the regulatory matters are cleared up.