Oil/gas exploration safe to go ahead, says scientific panel

  • Feb. 18, 2004 4:00 p.m.

A independent scientific panel has given a cautious yellow light to permit oil and gas exploration in the waters around the islands, Heidi Bevington writes, paving the way for the federal review panel to begin hearings.
The Royal Society of Canada’s report was made public Tuesday, saying the federal exploration moratorium can be safely lifted if certain conditions are met, including creating an advisory body, collecting more information and monitoring the impact of drilling, among others.
The report also says, “provided an adequate regulatory regime is put in place, there are no science gaps that need to be filled before lifting the moratoria on oil and gas development. It is extremely important to recognize that this does not mean that science gaps do not exist (we have outlined many). Nor should it be taken to mean that the Panel is recommending that development be allowed to begin immediately.”
The report holds no surprises for Guujaaw, president of the Council of the Haida Nation, nor for Prince Rupert’s Dave McGuigan, an early supporter of oil and gas development in north coast waters.
“The report didn’t come out with anything new,” says Mr. McGuigan. “The report pretty much identified the issues we need to address.”
“These panels are set in action to support drilling,” Guujaaw told the Observer, “They still have a heck of a legal hurdle, which is us. They being the province, the feds, the oil companies-anyone who’s after it.”
Areas the panel says need study before development include mapping the sea floor and studying sea life to better understand what’s there, and gathering more information about sea life, especially species that are economically important or at risk. The panel also recommends study of the area’s earthquake activity, and wind and wave activity.
Queen Charlotte Basin oilfields might produce a total of $110-billion in revenue, “but despite pre-moratorium seismic exploration and eight wells drilled offshore, there has been no commercial discovery,” the paper says. As many as 15 oil fields may exist in the region.
The panel estimates science and industry need 15 years to safely prepare for production, a time-line Mr. McGuigan says is too long. “We can move forward as quickly as we need to,” he says. “We have pretty good basic knowledge. We did a lot of work in the ’60s and ’70s.”
The panel also recommends creating marine protected areas, especially around some unique sponge reefs in Hecate Strait and other vulnerable areas.
The federal Minister of Natural Resources commissioned the independent study by the Royal Society of Canada, to provide advice on science issues related to oil and gas development, as well as to provide information to non-scientists concerned about the issue.
Mr. McGuigan agrees. “The most important thing right now is for people of the North Coast to become informed. People tend to react emotionally-it’s an emotional issue. You have to make an informed decision.”
The federal oil and gas moratorium review panel, which visited the islands earlier this year, has been waiting for the release of this scientific panel’s report before scheduling hearings. It wants to provide islanders with enough time to study the scientific report before its hearings, expected within the next couple of months.
The Royal Society report can be found at www.rsc.ca and begins with a 20-page summary of the issues.

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