BP Canada's oil exploration project that had been scheduled to begin next year off Nova Scotia is being put on hold until 2018. 

In a statement released on Wednesday, the company says its exploratory drilling will start in the second quarter of 2018 — less than a year before its exploration licence expires. 

The company can have its licence extended for a further three years provided it has demonstrated significant activity toward drilling.

The company says by delaying drilling, it can finalize the locations of the exploration wells by the end of 2016. 

"The additional time will also support the preparation of a robust environmental assessment and mitigation plan as well as thorough drilling, incident prevention and response plans," the statement said. 

The company says it plans to submit its environmental impact statement to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency in May.

Regulatory board

Kathleen Funke, a spokeswoman for the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, confirmed BP Canada has begun that process with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. 

"While BP did notify us of their delay in drilling, they were not required to do so," Funke said.

She said staff at the petroleum board meet with BP regularly to discuss regulatory requirements, "but as of right now they do not have an application in front of us." 

In its statement, BP Canada said it cancelled its expressions of interest for the program, but will retender for the same services by the end of this year or early 2017.

With files from Paul Withers