CALGARY, May 8 -- Industry spokesmen are praising a British Columbia government-commissioned report that says there is no scientific or legal reason to maintain long-standing exploration moratoriums off Canada's West Coast.
But the spokesmen note that more scientific research is needed and that many intergovernmental jurisdictional and aboriginal rights issues must be resolved before industry can act.
British Columbia Energy Minister Richard Neufeld said the report of an independent scientific panel is a major step towards lifting moratoriums on exploration and development off the Queen Charlotte Islands off the northern coast of British Columbia.
He said the report, which calls for more scientific research by the province and by Ottawa, confirms the potential for safe and scientifically sound exploration in the environmentally sensitive region. The provincial government is providing an additional $2 million (Can.) for further technological research.
A 1998 report by the Geological Survey of Canada estimated undiscovered resource potential of several basins in the region at 25.8 tcf of natural gas and 9.8 billion bbl of crude oil.
Pierre Alvarez, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), said the report is a small but positive step.
"You clearly now have a basis for discussion among technical experts at the federal and provincial levels," Alvarez said.
"We've always said that one of the key issues is going to be some kind of coordination between federal and provincial mechanisms. This provides the basis for that. The province is looking at a significant research agenda."
Alvarez said a small step has been taken, and governments are now talking on the issue. He said that is a key development, because nothing can happen unless the two levels of government are communicating.
The CAPP president noted that moratoriums are still in place and that many jurisdictional issues must be resolved, such as how to lift the moratoriums, how lands would be issued, how environmental assessments will be done, and how to deal with aboriginal claims and concerns in the region.
Chevron Canada view
A spokeswoman for Chevron Canada Resources, the largest leaseholder in the region, said the report is a positive step and that the company supports the need for more scientific work before any decisions are made to open up the area.
Lynn Lehr said that Chevron has about 15 million acres, mostly in the Hecate Strait area, and activity there has been frozen since 1972.
"I couldn't put a timeframe on when exploration might happen, but we agree that jurisdictional, regulatory, and land claims issues must be resolved first," Lehr said.
"There is a need for more scientific information. That needs to happen."
Petro-Canada: not a priority
Petro-Canada, which has held more than 5 million acres in the region since 1982, says the West Coast is not a core property and is not on its priority list at the moment.
Spokesman Chris Dawson says there are three essential criteria necessary before the company would consider operations:
-- Federal and provincial governments must establish a common regulatory framework.
-- All related First Nations (indigenous peoples) issues must be resolved. The Haida people in the Queen Charlotte area are claiming lands in the region.
-- Environmentally sensitive areas must be recognized in advance and given protection. An example, Dawson said, are lands that both Petro-Canada and Shell Canada Ltd. have donated to create marine parks.
Dawson said work is now under way for governments to establish a common regulatory framework. He said the technical panel report is a step in what will be a lengthy and detailed process to examine moratorium and development issues.
Contact Jim Stott at [email protected].