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Province moving forward on oil and gas, says energy minister

The provincial government is going ahead with it is commitment to oil and gas development-although maybe not by 2010 as it originally said, Mariah McCooey writes.
The Vancouver Sun recently speculated that Victoria was getting "cold feet" after the Priddle report showed that 75-percent of respondents were opposed to lifting the moratorium. But provincial Minister of Energy Richard Neufeld says that's absurd. "It's business as usual," he said.
However, the province's original vision of having rigs up and running by 2010 is looking unrealistic. "The media is always trying to pin that (date) on me," he told the Observer in an exclusive telephone interview Friday afternoon,
"The answer is no. I'm not going to make that commitment, because it's a great way to set yourself up for failure." A lot of things have to happen, he said, before drilling can take place - if and when the moratorium is lifted. "The issue of lifting the moratorium isn't the be all and end all," he said, "even once it's lifted, there's science work, agreements with First nationsÂ… a lot of things have to happen." A thorough environmental assessment can take up to 18 months, the minister said, and the scientific ships needed to conduct the tests have to be booked at least a year in advance.
That's not to say that they aren't eager to get a response from the federal government. Since the province has already established its eagerness to lift the moratorium, the federal moratorium is the only thing left in the way.
"We asked them to make up their minds, one way or the other," said Mr. Neufeld. "We've made a proposal to them to work collectively to design a regulatory system, and now what we're saying to them is 'you pay for it.'" If the moratorium was lifted, industry would be paying for the seismic tests and assessments, he explained, but with the moratorium in place, the expenditure rests with the province.
As for the opposition among First Nations and other communities on the coast, Mr. Neufeld thinks that education is key. "They're not saying 'no,' they're saying 'no - if there's nothing in it for me'. Let's not fool ourselves."
Mr. Neufeld is convinced if only people knew how environmentally safe and scientifically sound development can be, they would support it. "There's a lot of misinformation out there," he said, and countering that with correct information is key. And there has certainly been an effort to do so - the province has already spent $2-million on an education campaign, and an additional $2-million went to the University of Northern BC for their series of studies. It has also taken coastal mayors and community leaders to other places where oil and gas development is happening - in Cook Inlet and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Priddle report was a total waste of time, Mr. Neufeld said. "The report gave four options," he said, "ones I could have come up with myself a long time ago - what a waste!" He also says the report was not representative of the real views of coastal British Columbians.
"It's easy to find people who are opposed. So a few thousand (Priddle) respondents said 'no': well, there's 4.2-million people in this province. I could easily say that the silent majority said 'yes'."