N.S. lost out on millions in Sable gas, says former resource head

There are accusations that political mishandling of the Sable Gas project has cost Nova Scotians nearly a billion dollars.

The charge comes from a former president of the province's crown oil company, Nova Scotia Resources Limited (NSRL), a man who was eventually fired by the former Liberal government.

Nearly five years after his dismissal, Jim Livingstone is accusing the Liberals of bungling and interference. The Calgary oil man has detailed a litany of what he calls political interference by the Liberal government, including its decision to give up the province's 50 per cent share in gas pipelines.

The stake was given for free to gas giants Mobil and Shell. Livingstone indicates that cost taxpayers in the vicinity of $350 million.

He also says he was shocked when he learned the Liberal government sold its western Canadian properties to a government consultant, at a fraction of their value.

And Livingstone says the failure to follow through on the sale of tax write-offs, accumulated by NSRL, cost the province another $80-million.

Livingstone appeared before a committee of the Nova Scotia legislature Friday. It's the first time anyone has tried to calculate the cost of Nova Scotia's missed opportunities in the offshore gas project.

The $1 billion figure is not being challenged by the Conservative government, which is also being criticized by Livingstone.

He says the province should be reaping the benefits of resources found off its coast.

"You're still out there drilling wells, $13 million in this budget," he says, adding that "abandonment costs have gone from $17.5 million to $22 million."

Livingstone says the money is going for naught because the drilling isn't paying off.

Still, he told the government that NSRL is worth holding on to. Although it's heavily in debt and sinking deeper it still holds two oil production fields and owns a small share of the Sable gas project.

Livingstone says if nothing else, retaining a share of Sable would give Nova Scotia some control on the price of gas.

"If you sell NSRL you've got no access to that gas. You've got nothing. You're at the whim of the market, I mean you have no protection on price," he said.