The board of directors at EnCana Corp. has approved the $700-million Deep Panuke natural gas projectfor offshoreNova Scotia, earning a sigh of relief from companies hoping to benefit.

"We have been waiting for this for five years," said Paul MacEachern, director of OTANS, which represents companies in the province that supply everything from helicopters to food for people working on offshore platforms.

EnCana's decision was announced early Thursday.

"We are excited to move ahead with the development of the Deep Panuke discovery," EnCana CEO Randy Eresman said in a statement.

The development, about 250 kilometres southeast of Halifax, is expected to breathe new life into an industry where exploration has stalled.

In the last few years, many supply companies have left or diversified. Now, MacEachern hopes they come back.

"We were truly in danger of losing the capacity to build an offshore project," he said.

Deep Panuke means many Cape Bretoners who left for jobs can return home, said Jim Wooder, CEO of Laurentian Energy, which has a couple of bids on the project.

"One of the really exciting things about it is we will be able to repatriate a lot of people who are working off the island in the building trades," Wooder said.

EnCana shelved the project in 2003, saying the original $1.1-billion price tag was too expensive. It revived it last year in a scaled-back form.

The company estimates it will spend $150 million a year on developing as many as eight wells, with gas to flow as early as 2010.

MacEachern sees it as an opportunity to kickstart other projects.

"Panuke is going to give us the capability to get back in the game. And we can deliver the thing on time and on budget," he said, adding other companies might be interested in renting EnCana's drilling rig.

Besides creating an estimated 250 full-time jobs and indirect spinoffs, the project is expected to deliver more than $400 million in royalties to the province of Nova Scotia over its 13-year lifespan.

Deep Panuke will be Nova Scotia's second offshore gasdevelopment since Sable Island eight years ago.