Nova Scotia's auditor general is in a major dispute with the agency that regulates the offshore oil industry in Nova Scotia.

Jacques Lapointe said the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum board is denying him access to information because the oil companies it regulates don't want the information made public.

The offshore petroleum board is a joint federal-provincial agency that regulates the offshore oil industry in Nova Scotia, everything from protecting the environment to worker safety.

The auditor general wanted to see if the board was doing its job, but he ran into a major roadblock.

The two oil companies operating offshore — ExxonMobil Canada and EnCana Corp. — wanted Lapointe to promise not to publicly release any of the documents they've given to the board.

When the auditor general said no, the petroleum board refused to turn over that information.

Lapointe said Wednesday that he believes the board is contravening the law, and he simply could not agree to those conditions.      

If he agreed to the conditions,  Lapointe said his office would have surrendered its ability to inform the public about matters it has "every right to know."

As a result, he said he is unable to say whether the board is ensuring that offshore work is being done safely and in an environmentally responsible manner.

Lapointe said he could not go ahead and do an audit without the co-operation of the board.

"If we did conduct an audit and a dispute later arose between our office and an operator about disclosure, the matter could only be resolved in the courts," he said. 

"Given that ExxonMobil's annual earnings are more than three times the entire budget of Nova Scotia, it would be folly to engage them in a prolonged legal battle."

But the board said Lapointe's report is unfair and contains a number of incorrect assertions.

In a statement, the board said it co-operated with Lapointe's office as much as it could under federal and provincial laws.

Newfoundland and Labrador's auditor general issued a similar complaint this past summer.

With files from the Canadian Press