Canada oil, gas visitors look to peninsula

Posted: Wednesday, July 30, 2003

The Cook Inlet oil and gas industry has set an example that some of Alaska's immediate Southeastern neighbors want to follow. A contingency of British Columbia offshore oil and gas stakeholders, representing provincial and coastal communities, government officials and First Nations leaders, came to the Kenai Peninsula for a three-day fact-finding mission that could help spur development in their coastal waters.

Richard Neufeld, British Columbia's minister for energy and mines, came as part of a 14-member delegation wanting to learn from the nearly 40 years of history the Cook Inlet region has in oil and gas exploration and production.

The group hoped to get a firsthand look at the region's offshore oil and gas industry and how it interacts with the community and other industries.

"We hope to go through what you've gone through, but without the mistakes," said Harry Mose, the mayor of Port Hardy, British Columbia, Tuesday morning at a meeting with Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council members and staff.

Although an oil and gas industry operates in the northeastern corner of the province, both the Canadian federal government and the British Columbia provincial government have placed moratoria on offshore production and exploration since the 1960s, citing concern of environmental backlash. But the group seeks information that will justify lifting those restrictions to boost economy.

According to information from the Ministry of Energy and Mines, a geological survey has estimated that the total resources for all British Columbian coastal basins could be as high as 9.8 billion barrels of oil and 43.4 trillion cubic feet of gas. But seismic readings haven't been taken since the federal and provincial moratoria took effect, said provincial assembly member Bill Belsey, speaking for an absent Neufeld who returned to Canada to address some political matters.

"We've brought a number of councilors, mayors and chiefs to listen and see what we can learn from what you've done to mitigate spills," Belsey said.

"We want to make sure there is sound science and good information in place before we lift the moratoria. We're seeing a mature industry ... that wants to do things right, and we want to take a page out of your book."

A report released earlier this year by the David Suzuki Foundation, an environmental organization, listed the legal obstacles Canada faced in opening up offshore resource development. These challenges included questions of British Columbian governmental jurisdiction over the offshore areas, federal funding for cleanup in the event of any oil spills and unresolved aboriginal land claims, particularly with the 7,000-member Haida Nation having filed a court claim to Native title in the Hecate Strait between northwestern-most Queen Charlotte Island and the mainland.

Tom Happynook, forestry councilor and treaty negotiator for the Huu-Ay-Aht First Nation in Port Alberni, said the collection of aboriginal tribes who live along the coastal area want to form an alliance to promote a specific list of principles to benefit his people.

"We're not interested in the government inundating us with technology," he said. "We're interested in becoming informed."

The principals he listed included conservation of Native tribal title rights, effective processes for environmental protection and consultation, land, air, sea and subsurface title rights, economic benefits and jobs, co-management and revenue sharing.

The group touched down in Anchorage early Monday evening and boarded an Era flight for a chartered aerial tour of Cook Inlet's offshore development areas before landing in Kenai. Tuesday morning, they met with CIRCAC to learn about the advisory committee's role in the post-Exxon Valdez oil and gas industry, and what steps have been taken to prevent such large-scale spill incidents in the future.

In the afternoon, they visited the North Kenai industrial corridor. A handful flew out to a number of platforms in the inlet and the rest toured the liquid nitrogen gas plant and the Agrium facility.

Today they will fly back to Anchorage to meet with the Federal Minerals Management Services and the state Department of Natural Resources, among other agencies, before returning to Canada.

Neufeld's assistant, Steven Simons, said the province hopes exploration restrictions will be lifted by next spring so new seismic analysis can begin by next summer.

"We made a commitment to follow through with this," he said. "Minister Neufeld said we want to light the 2010 Winter Olympic torch in Vancouver with B.C. oil."

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