The Nova Scotia government announced it will spend $12 million over four years to fund scientific data on potential offshore oil and natural gas opportunities.

Premier Stephen McNeil made the announcement ​about the multi-million dollar project Tuesday afternoon. The funding will help provide a geographical map of Nova Scotia's "offshore potentional," according to a news release from the Department of Energy. 

The $12-million will help to build on the Nova Scotia Energy Department's research program called the Play Fairway Analysis. The program provides seismic data and other geological information to industry players looking for offshore oil and gas.

"Our oil and gas sector represents one of the single biggest opportunities for the future economic growth of our province," said McNeil.

"We've only just begun to explore the full potential of our offshore. Our investment, combined with private-sector efforts, will help maximize the benefits for Nova Scotians." 

The government has said that the program has played a role in persuading BP and Shell Canada to launch major exploration projects.

The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board granted BP exploration rights last November to four deepwater blocks about 300 kilometres southeast of Halifax after it submitted a $1-billion bid.

Shell Canada has also been given exploration rights to four parcels — two in the Sable Island area and two in deepwater — as part of a $970-million venture.

The company has completed 3D seismic imaging off Nova Scotia's southwestern shore and last October it said the earliest it could begin exploratory drilling in late 2015.

The announcement Tuesday will come days after the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board announced it is seeking new bids to explore parcels of its offshore territory. The deadline for those bids is Oct. 30.

With files from CBC News