Canada weighs renewed drilling

The Olympian


ANCHORAGE, AK-- The Canadian government is planning public hearings and a scientific review that could reopen offshore oil and gas drilling along the British Columbia coast.
The decision is good news to economic development boosters, particularly in the province's northern reaches near the border with Alaska.

Foes of offshore development include commercial fishermen, Canadian Natives and an influential Canadian environmental group, the David Suzuki Foundation.

According to government geologists, the Queen Charlotte Basin around the Queen Charlotte Islands could contain as much as 9.8 billion barrels of oil and 25.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The ban has been in effect since 1972, and drillers last explored there in the late 1960s. One company, Shell Canada, drilled eight wells in the basin. A 2001 expert panel found no scientific basis for the current blanket moratorium on offshore exploration and development along the entire British Columbia, the ministry said.

To some degree, the ban stemmed from one-time fears that oil tankers would carry Alaska crude oil from Valdez south down the Inside Passage. The Exxon spill in 1989 helped reinforce the offshore drilling ban.

But political leaders in British Columbia have been looking for ways to reverse the province's weak economy, particularly in the isolated north. Southeast Alaska saw 14 offshore wells drilled in the Yakutat area from 1969 to 1983, but no large pools of oil were found, said Mark Myers, director of the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas


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