British Columbia

Strong support for offshore drilling moratorium

A federal review panel has found an overwhelming majority of the British Columbians it surveyed want to maintain the 32-year moratorium on offshore drilling.

A federal review panel has found an overwhelming majority of the British Columbians it surveyed want to maintain the 32-year moratorium on offshore drilling.

The panel says about 3,700 individuals and groups showed up at hearings or made written submissions.

And it says about 75 per cent of them were opposed to lifting the moratorium on drilling along the B.C. coast.

Twenty-three per cent – less than a quarter of them – want to lift the federal moratorium.

The report says those opposed to offshore drilling said they fear the environmental impact, that there are big gaps in the plans that need to be filled in before any exploration goes ahead.

Supporters of drilling told the panel that it would be great for the economy of coastal regions.

The report's author, Roland Priddle, says public opinion is so deeply polarized that no compromise appears possible.

The panel makes no recommendations as to whether the federal government should lift the moratorium or keep it in place.

But Cheryl Brooks, who led a consultation process involving First Nations, found no such divisions.

"There was no polarization from the First Nations perspective. First Nations unanimously oppose the lifting of the federal moratorium at this time."

The leader of the Haida Nation says he's not surprised most British Columbians are against offshore oil and gas exploration.

And Guujaaw says government should now realize it's not just First Nations who are opposed to underwater drilling in the Queen Charlotte Basin. And he says it's time for the province to re-think its plans.

"I think that any provincial government who depends upon votes and considers the will of the people should just put it aside until another time. I think that people don't have an appetite for that right now," he says.

Anti-drilling advocate Jennifer Lash of the Living Oceans Society says she's encouraged by the findings of the two reports.

"I think there's a very, very strong and clear message coming from the First Nations and the non-native residents of this coast that they want the moratorium maintained and the coast protected."

But supporters of offshore drilling are describing the report as a waste of time. B.C. Chamber of Commerce president John Winter says the report gives a biased view of public opinion.

"We've done surveys over the past three years, legitimate polling, and our numbers would show that in the three surveys, the numbers in support province-wide are in the low sixties," he says.

Winter is critical of the way the Priddle report tallied public submissions. Votes by municipal councils were counted as one submission – but names on petitions and letters were counted individually.

B.C. Energy Minister Richard Neufeld is also critical of the Priddle report, saying he can't believe it took a year to produce.

"For the length of time it took to get the report, I'm disappointed in what Priddle reported. I think not just me, but probably everybody, expected just a little bit more than what we already knew," he says. 

"And the suggestions that came out at the end, or the recommendations that came out, not recommendations, options I should say, that came out at the end, were things that had been talked about for a long time."

Neufeld says he will discuss the report with his federal counterpart next week when they meet in Ottawa.

The B.C. government says offshore exploration is safe, and has been pushing to lift the moratorium as soon as possible – with oil and gas flowing from offshore wells by 2010.