By Heidi Bevington—The BC government has revealed its timetable for oil and gas development in the waters around the islands.
“By 2010, your government wants to have an offshore oil and gas industry that is up and running, environmentally sound, and booming with job creation,” Lieutenant-Governor Iona Campagnolo read during the Feb. 11 throne speech, which outlined the government’s intentions for the current legislative session.
“Why 2010? We needed to establish a target for this initiative and 2010 gives us seven years to carefully examine offshore in a realistic and comprehensive manner,” says Glen Plummer, spokesman for the Ministry of Energy and Mines. “We know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are confident this work can and will be accomplished in seven years.”
Before any serious development can begin the government faces a few challenges. It has to accommodate first nations’ interests, reach an agreement with Ottawa, and assess environmental concerns and the full impact on coastal communities, says Mr. Plummer.
A government appointed scientific review panel issued a report in last May saying there was no scientific basis for continuing the moratorium. At the same time, The Offshore Oil and Gas Task Force issued its report summarizing the issues people felt needed to be settled before development should occur.
The government gave $2-million to UNBC to follow-up on recommendations from the two reports. UNBC has used the money to hire a project coordinator, and will begin creation of an information database and a community information network. The money will also be spent on scientific research to answer environmental concerns about wind and wave activity, earthquakes and impact on marine life.
“On January 10, 2003 the province formally established a dedicated team [lead by Deputy Minister Jack Ebbels] to move towards development of the offshore oil and gas industry in British Columbia,” says Mr. Plummer.
In order to see what islanders think about the government’s plans, the Observer several called islanders to ask their opinion about the possibility of offshore oil and gas development, and this is what they said.
Sandspit’s Gail Henry said “If it’s environmentally sound, I don’t have a problem with it, but they have to protect us first. I know there would be jobs created on the mainland, but I don’t know if it would create jobs here. I’d like to know more about what type of jobs it would create and where they would be.” Ms Henry was speaking on her own behalf.
Duane Gould, also of Sandspit, says he supports lifting the moratorium in order to assess the resource and see what’s really out there. “It it’s done in a safe and environmentally sound manner I support the development.” Mr. Gould says he wants to see a revenue sharing structure similar to that created in the Fort St. John area to ensure some of the benefits from the extraction come back to the islands. “We have to know what’s out there so we can make sound decisions about what to do. We’re a financially starved province right now and we need money to support hospitals and schools,” says Mr. Gould.
Albert Myshrall of Queen Charlotte says “I don’t think people here are going to stop it. It’s bigger than us. The native population might have a bit of power, but the government doesn’t really listen to the rest of us. Most people don’t seem to want to see it. They’re scared of pollution, and rightly so. I guess I could live with it, but I’d hate to see the place wrecked.
George Pattison of Queen Charlotte says, “Does it mean environmental disaster? Well, not necessarily, as long as environmental standards are upheld. But would the government do that? They don’t have a great track record. It doesn’t have to be a disaster, but it doesn’t mean prosperity either. A few local jobs will be created, but probably not many. Does it mean social disaster? Sudden, large development can mean real dislocation, but the offshore nature of the development means Queen Charlotte would likely not see anything. Prince Rupert might see some development.”
Winston Shave of Queen Charlotte worked for 10 years in the oil industry as a production accountant. He says, “I have a great deal of difficulty with the transportation industry. Oil tankers create spills, not oil companies. The oil companies usually do a pretty good job in their production. Spills happen when oil is shipped in tankers that may be old, or not double hulled, or simply have an accident, but then the oil company gets the flack and not the shipping company. I support the development of oil and natural gas if shipping restrictions are tightened up.”
“A resounding NO!”, said Old Massett’s Shirley Tranter. She’s concerned that oil and gas development will damage traditional Haida hunting and fishing grounds. “Even if the government guarantees us jobs, I’m still against it. I think all islander will come out against it.”
Rachel Langford of Vancouver, visiting her mother Sharon Hitchcock and grandmother Flossie Yeltatzie of Old Massett, is also against oil and gas development. “I’ve been watching this issue quite carefully, and I’m against it. I think it will be very damaging to the unique, beautiful wildlife and the land that we have here. Truthfully, I don’t think there would be any economic benefit. I think people would be brought in from the outside to run the rigs. Even if there were taxes or royalties paid to the islands, I don’t think it would filter down to individual islanders.”
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