In a moment of over-exuberance, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell once said he hoped to use natural gas from the province’s offshore to ignite the flame at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.
So much for grand dreams.
Even with a federal government in power that is more likely than its predecessor to support drilling, the wheels have been grinding slowly.
Time for Campbell to stir the pot again.
Speaking in Hong Kong, he suggested that in “two or three years” opportunities to end a federal moratorium on development would “expand.”
He said British Columbia and the federal government “are spending millions of dollars to do the science so we can conduct drilling in an environmentally responsible way.”
Flurry of denials, clarifications, challengesSome immediately jumped to the conclusion that Campbell was actually setting a bold timetable for drilling the offshore, setting off a flurry of denials, clarifications and challenges.
Federal Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn, who represents a British Columbia constituency in Parliament, said he had no idea where Campbell developed the idea that the ban might be lifted in two or three years.
“It’s not on our agenda and we have no intention of putting it on,” he said.
Lunn also said major progress toward a resolution of First Nations land claims needs to occur.
B.C. Energy Minister Richard Neufeld said the premier’s remarks may have been misunderstood, emphasizing that the province has said repeatedly that the moratorium should end only after full research and consultation has been conducted.
“We have always said we wouldn’t do it until the science was complete,” he said. “There is still a fair amount of work to be done and (Campbell) recognizes that.”
Environmental community furiousBut Campbell’s speech infuriated the environmental community.
Oonagh O’Connor, a spokeswoman for B.C.-based Living Oceans Society, accused the premier of being “unrealistic,” arguing the government would need a lot of support it doesn’t currently have to open the offshore to development.
Society Executive Director Jennifer Lash said Campbell had grossly underestimated the volume of research needed to identify the risks associated with exploiting offshore resources.
She said it would be impossible to complete that task in two or three years.
In addition, the government could not count on the backing of the majority of B.C. residents, Lash said.
Guujaw, president of the Haida Nation, which claims title to the Queen Charlotte Islands and Hecate Strait, said the province also faces a major obstacle in resolving ownership of the region.
On the flip side, John Hunter, a director of Ocean Industries B.C., told the Vancouver Sun that “modern practices and appropriate regulation” have shown over the last 25 to 30 years that the risk of offshore development can be reduced.
He noted that Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are not burdened by bans, while Norway, the United Kingdom and Trinidad among others are not under any public pressure to return to pre-offshore days.
In early 2003, Campbell set the ball rolling to remove the 1972 federal ban by targeting 2010 to have an offshore industry “up and running” to develop resources estimated at 10 billion barrels of oil, 41.4 trillion cubic feet of discovered conventional and tight gas and 35 tcf of conventional undiscovered gas.
Decision expected in 2004In 2004 a federal panel was expected to decide whether B.C. was in a position to commence exploration of a region the U.S. Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission recently said holds more reserves under moratorium than any other North American jurisdiction.
Instead, the panel put the spotlight on what it described as a “vigorously polarized” province, with deep divisions covering environmental groups, small business proponents, corporate interests, scientists, politicians and average citizens.
In a widely disputed conclusion, the panel also said 75 percent of those making presentations at its hearings endorsed upholding the 1972 moratorium — a finding that prompted Neufeld to dismiss the report as “useless.”
Since then the province has financed further scientific research, consulted aboriginal communities and gained support from some coastal community groups, basing some of its arguments on the prospect of offshore production eliminating oil imports to B.C. which cover all but 13 million barrels of the 65 million-70 million it consumes annually.
The election of the pro-business Conservative federal government in January raised Neufeld’s hopes that Ottawa would revive action on the file, allowing the industry to embark on seismic programs.
To the surprise of B.C., Lunn has shown no inclination to move forward, passing up the chance for formal talks and contending that despite the potential economic benefits of an offshore industry he wants more precise estimates on the recoverable reserves.