Study of offshore drilling would be costly, Canadian official says

Posted: Thursday, April 03, 2003

VANCOUVER (AP) -- It could cost $100 million (Canadian) or more to study the impact of lifting an offshore oil-drilling moratorium on Canada's Pacific Coast near Alaska, Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson said Wednesday.

The Canadian government announced last week it will hold a scientific review and public hearings to gauge how people feel about ending a three-decade-old ban on drilling in the Queen Charlotte Basin on the northern British Columbia coast just south of Alaska waters.

But Anderson said he opposes any drilling until its long-term effects are known. And that will cost a lot of money.

''My ballpark figure, which I will not be held to because it's a rough figure, is $100 million to $120 million,'' Anderson said. ''And it could be double that.'' A Canadian dollar is worth roughly 68 U.S. cents, so $100 million in Canadian dollars would be about $68 million in U.S. currency.

Oil and gas exploration off the B.C. coast has been subject to provincial and federal moratoriums dating back to the mid-1970s, when a handful of wells were drilled.

The Geological Survey of Canada has estimated there may be as much as 9.8 billion barrels of oil and 25.9 trillion cubic feet of gas in the Queen Charlotte Basin.

The B.C. government, eyeing the potential economic benefits of offshore energy production, is considering lifting its moratorium on exploration, imposed in 1989.

But Anderson said little is known about how drilling would affect the coastal ecosystem.

''I cannot support the lifting of either moratorium until such time as we've done the science work which we know needs to be done,'' he said.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal said last week the federal process is not aimed at deciding whether to lift the moratorium ''but rather a means to fully explore the issues and views of British Columbians.''

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