B.C. Liberals set stage for offshore oil and gas drilling

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      The Gordon Campbell government has never hidden its support for creating an offshore oil and gas industry. Shortly after taking office in 2001, it appointed a six-member B.C. Liberal caucus subcommittee, which included future energy minister Blair Lekstrom, to seek public input on lifting a provincial moratorium on offshore drilling.

      In October 2001, then–energy minister Richard Neufeld appointed a three-member scientific review panel, chaired by former University of Victoria president David Strong. Its mandate was to offer advice in four areas related to offshore oil and gas exploration, including whether “any specific government actions” should be taken prior to removing the provincial moratorium.

      The B.C. moratorium had been announced by the Social Credit government in 1989. This came 17 years after the federal government announced a moratorium on offshore drilling and on crude-oil tanker traffic passing through Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, and Queen Charlotte Sound. (Tankers carrying crude oil from Alaska travel west of Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island and enter Juan de Fuca Strait on their way to Washington-state oil refineries.)

      In January 2002, the B.C. scientific review panel reported that although there are “gaps in knowledge”, there was no justification for a “blanket moratorium” on offshore drilling. It noted that with “continuing commitment to ongoing principles of adaptive management and sustainable development, the existing policies maintaining an ongoing moratorium on hydrocarbon exploration and development offshore [in] British Columbia can responsibly be ended”.

      In the February 2003 throne speech, the province declared that by 2010, the government “wants to have an offshore oil and gas industry that is up and running, environmentally sound and booming with job creation”. Four years later, Neufeld told the legislature that an estimated $100 billion worth of resources under the ocean could be extracted. “But we need to actually do it in a safe manner with the correct information and the correct regulatory regime,” he stated, according to Hansard.

      Neufeld, now a Conservative senator, also mentioned offshore drilling along Canada’s East Coast and in the Beaufort Sea, the Great Lakes, the North Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. He noted that thousands of people, including many B.C. residents, board cruise ships in the Gulf of Mexico, where he estimated there were 4,000 drilling platforms. “People cruise around them,” Neufeld said. “That’s where they want to go. I’ve never heard anybody come back and say, ”˜That was terrible.’ ”

      During the same debate, then–NDP MLA Gregor Robertson reminded Neufeld that the Alaskan oil and gas industry “has dumped billions of tons of toxic muds, cuttings, and produced waters into Cook Inlet”, according to Hansard. Robertson, now Vancouver’s mayor, noted that Environmental Protection Agency studies showed that these pollutants had entered the food chain.

      Neufeld responded that times have changed. “When the member talks about cuttings going into the ocean, I don’t know about Alaska, but I know the last time I was in the Gulf of Mexico, I remember being told that doesn’t happen there,” he said. “In fact, a lot of that doesn’t even happen onshore anymore.”

      On April 20, a BP drilling platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and leaking about 800,000 litres of oil a day into the water. Almost two weeks after the giant oil spill began threatening Louisiana residents’ way of life, Neufeld’s successor as energy minister, Blair Lekstrom, didn’t rule out offshore drilling in B.C., according to a Canadian Press report. “If it can be done properly, I think people will entertain it; if it can’t be, then it won’t be,” Lekstrom told reporters in Victoria.

      Jennifer Lash, executive director of the Living Oceans Society, told the Georgia Straight by phone that B.C. government and industry officials were claiming in 2003 and 2004 that blowouts don’t happen because of technological improvements. “If the moratorium were to be lifted here and there were to be rigs here, there would one day be a spill,” Lash predicted. “We can see from the experience in the Gulf just how catastrophic it is.”

      Lash called for a legislated ban on offshore drilling off B.C.’s west coast. NDP federal energy critic Nathan Cullen, whose Skeena riding includes the north coast and Haida Gwaii, echoed the call. “The current premier and prime minister are both chomping at the bit to drill for oil and gas in similarly dangerous situations,” Cullen told the Straight by phone. “And the implications would be catastrophic for British Columbians.”

      Lash pointed out that a former federal natural resources minister, Gary Lunn, told her by phone more than three years ago that the Conservative government will not lift the federal moratorium on offshore drilling. However, Cullen claimed that Lunn’s successors in the portfolio—Lisa Raitt and Christian Paradis—have each told him that they favour offshore drilling in B.C. He said that the current minister, Paradis, informed him before the Gulf of Mexico disaster that this is a “top priority” for the federal government. “I don’t think anything has shifted in their minds,” Cullen said. “I think they see it [the blowout] as a public-relations problem, but their faith in the oil and gas industry is absolute and unshakable.”

      The Ministry of Natural Resources did not make Paradis available for an interview by the Straight’s deadline.

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      glen p robbins

      May 13, 2010 at 9:51am

      First --this needs to be said. These panels CV's etc are virtually meaningless. I support this post the MLA wage increases from a blue ribbon panel-which turned on itself with finger pointing with the 'outcome' being determined by only some on the panel--while another was out of town. The process for determining the MLA wage increase was (another) sham.

      We need to be made aware of -- any deals--discussions with feds--etc.about this--but any future drilling -- if it occurs at all--must be done by government -- nationalizing our energy.

      If as some advisors have suggested--the province of BC does not have the capacity to properly manage offshore oil drilling--no harm--the New Democrats and BC Conservatives must now both proclaim they will not support any business relationships undertaken by Campbell from the date of the intention to file the Fight HST position and following.

      We need to find out what value we have--and if we need big oil to get us this information -- don't bother. (It's always nice for green negotiations to deal from strength).

      Alberta guy

      May 13, 2010 at 10:41am

      Oil and Gas rules and hippies drool!

      Nice to see that BC is trying to strengthen its economy. Drill baby Drill!


      May 13, 2010 at 3:55pm

      The day we call offshore drilling "sustainable development" is the day we call genocide "taking out the trash"

      glen p robbins

      May 13, 2010 at 4:58pm

      The Barf in the Gulf -- offshore oil drilling nightmare--will eclipse the health care deal-- and other business in terms of its strategic ---implications--nevermind the massive potential for environmental harm--and to many living creatures--who were just putting in an honest day's work.

      Ironies are no longer just that -- they are signposts.

      Wierd stuff happens - but for the first time in Britain -- and in our province - British Columbia the changes over time--must adapt quickly and fluidly to transition to good government--there has to be a real sense of honour at leadership.

      A good leader does the job -- does what HAS to be done -- well -- and then pursue more idealistic ambition. The people need leaders to fall on their swords more.

      Helena is winning 66-33 In your opinion who was right and who was wrong? She and even 'the bad guy' said they were open doors to investigation---the investigator was good--I'd like him to run for the Conservatives. Okay -- nothing to hide is all in.

      Damage --??


      May 14, 2010 at 10:44am

      The spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the biggest human caused disaster of all time. Fisherman are out of work, Oyster farmers are out of work, and tourists will not go on vacation whereever the oil spills on land; furthermore, the deathtoll on life in the Gulf will be irreversible. If 1 drop of oil affects 100 litres of water, the total amount of the Gulf of Mexico that will be affected is inconceivable with nearly 1,000,000 litres of oil spilling into the ocean per day. Oil spills carry death in it wake.

      The main reason why this particular spill has been so bad is because since the Ronald Reagan adminsitration, corporations have taken over the power of the US government behind closed doors--out of the public eye. Since the 1980's, corporations have deregulated industry so they can operate at minimal cost while externalizing real costs to the taxt payers. And if you don't think that corporate lobbiatism is happening in Canada then you are ignorant.

      The US does not require offshore oil rigs to have emergency shut off valves at the source of the pipe (remember the deregualtions); whereas, most other countries (like brazil) require these valves incase of an emergency. With one of these valves the oil would have been shut off two weeks ago and nearly 14,000,000 litres of oil wouldn't have flooded the Gulf.

      As a citizen of British Columbia, I value the ecology of British Columbia higher than anything else. Especially something that has the potential to cause a natural disaster that could never be fully reversed. The BC coast and inside passage where these rigs are being planned, are incredibly diverse and sensitive ecosystems. Many species witing this area are already threatened: salmon, orcas, dolphins, etc... Imagine BC without any of these, because a massive oil spills could potentially kill all of them in this area.

      It is time for the people of this province to stand up and speak out. The Anti-HST campaign is a perfect example. We, the citizens of BC, must exercise of democratic rights because right now the democracy in this province and Canada is merely a charade. These governments must stop putting big-business first (you know, that 1% of the population that own virtually 100% of the wealth), stop sacrificing the health and welling being of itc citizens and their livelihoods, and stop selling and destroying our natural resources.

      "Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
      -Robert F. Kennedy

      Protect BC's Coasts - Offshore BAN!

      May 17, 2010 at 1:44am

      Our true value in BC comes from our environment, in more ways than one. We cannot afford the potential damage that off-shore drilling presents. As many know, it's not a matter of if, but when disaster strikes. Protect our coasts.

      David Beresford-Jamieson

      Dec 8, 2010 at 6:38am

      I support the BC Green Party.
      BUT, we MUST continually investigate and evaluate a continually changing social, environmental and economic situation to find the optimum synergy for our brothers and sisters who share our planet.


      Dec 19, 2010 at 9:49pm

      There is safe offshore drilling going on all around the world. Stop the stupid scare mongering. In the meantime our government is short of funds for health care, education etc etc. Would we have needed HST if the BC gov't had royalty revenue from an offshore oil industry? Why is it that only Nfld can enjoy offshore oil resources? Can we not operate as safely as they have? This debate is ridiculous!