Ottawa Could Open Coast to Offshore Drilling

Ottawa officials said they are prepared to consider a proposal to remove the long-standing moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling in British Columbia if Canadian Premier Gordon Campbell makes the request. Canadian natural resources minister Herb Dhaliwal is awaiting the release of a report by an offshore oil and gas scientific panel expected to recommend further study of the issue, but he said he would be receptive to lifting the moratorium.

"I've always said, if we can develop our resources and do it in an environmentally-sustainable way, then I would be open to looking at exploration offshore British Columbia," he said.

The Queen Charlotte Basin could contain 10 billion barrels of oil and 26 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, roughly 2 1/2 times the Hibernia reserves off Canada's east coast, according to preliminary Geological Survey of Canada data. Chevron Canada and Petro-Canada are the only oil companies with leases to the estimated $100 billion worth of reserves.

Whatever the outcome of the report, government officials are expected to proceed slowly. "Personally, I would look forward to both governments saying they'll lift the moratoriums but, even if they do, it'll be a long time before any form of drilling is done," said Prince Rupert Mayor Don Scott.