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Environmental Moratorium Continues as Barrier to Drilling Offshore BC

A 33-year-old Canadian environmental moratorium will continue to prevent oil and gas drilling offshore of British Columbia, with pro-development provincial leaders blaming the federal government for indecision on plans to lift the ban.

"The biggest hurdle is to get the federal government moving," BC Energy Minister Richard Neufeld said in an interview. "I don't expect much movement until after the next election."

When the BC government started campaigning for an end to the moratorium about five years ago, a majority Liberal government prevailed in Ottawa and there were high hopes that a favorable decision could be won quickly. But opponents in BC, also known as "the Left coast" in Canada, included the federal Liberals' own environment minister at the time, David Anderson.

The opposition succeeded in holding off a decision until the 2004 federal election returned a minority government fighting for its life and discarding all but the most urgent issues from its agenda in Parliament.

A formal review of industry technology and current environmental standards by the Royal Society of Canada concluded there were no scientific reasons to reject offshore drilling on principle. But Neufeld acknowledged there is much popular opposition, highlighted by federal and provincial public inquiries, against throwing open drilling targets in some of Canada's most gorgeous and best-preserved coastal areas including the Queen Charlotte Islands region.

"It will come in time," Neufeld said, inspired by visions of wealth in estimates by the Geological Survey of Canada that project eventual discoveries of 40 Tcf of gas and eight billion barrels of oil.

"The quickest way for us not to make it happen is to move too fast," he said. The energy minister added that his government may have to settle for preliminary seismic exploration as fulfilling its declared objective of a thriving BC offshore oil and gas industry by 2010.

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