Georges Bank drilling ban extended

Canada is extending a moratorium on oil and gas exploration on the Georges Bank, the rich fishing area southwest of Nova Scotia.

N.S., Ottawa lengthen offshore exploration moratorium by 3 years

Canada is extending a moratorium on oil and gas exploration on Georges Bank, the rich fishing area southwest of Nova Scotia.

The ban will be in place for an extra three years, the Nova Scotia and federal governments said Thursday. It was set to expire at the end of 2012, but will now last until Dec. 31, 2015.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter said extending the ban is the right thing to do.

"We know that any decision on whether or not to lift the moratorium on Georges Bank could have significant economic and environmental impacts on the province, the country, and beyond," Dexter said in a statement Thursday.

"It is critical that government understands these impacts before such a decision is made."

Dexter said more research is needed to determine whether fishing and oil-and-gas industries can coexist. He promises a full public review before any testing and drilling is allowed.

Canada's decision mirrors one made by the United States. President Barack Obama recently extended the drilling ban on the American side of Georges Bank for an additional five years.

Several studies are underway on the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts of drilling in the region. One review is looking at the size of the petroleum reserves.

Based on the preliminary results, the province says more research is needed.

Nova Scotia Energy Minister Bill Estabrooks said there also could be lessons to learn from the drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

More than 17.9 million litres of oil have flowed into the waters off Louisiana since a rig exploded and sank on April 20.

Denny Morrow, who works for the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association and speaks for a lobby group called No Rigs, said he would like to see a permanent moratorium.

"I am disappointed with that. What has happened over the last nine months with the big blow out in the offshore off Australia and also in the Gulf of Mexico — to consider opening that up whenever to oil and gas risk, to me, is just unwarranted," he said.

Paul McEachern, managing director of the Offshore/Onshore Technologies Association of Nova Scotia (OTANS), said the extension is a good idea.

"This government has decided they have to make a decision on this one way or the other and they have to base it on science, rather that what could be expected in some circles as a knee jerk reaction based on circumstances in the Gulf," he said.

First Nations fishermen say they think putting a decision off to 2015 is just a delay tactic. They want Georges Bank recognized as a special fishing and breeding ground that should never be threatened by drill rigs.

Georges Bank lies along the edge of the Atlantic continental shelf between Nova Scotia and Cape Cod. It's one of the richest fishing grounds in the region, with large stocks of herring, haddock and scallops.

A moratorium delaying oil and gas development on Georges Bank was first put in place in 1988.