ChevronTexaco is keen to start exploring for oil and gas off British Columbia's Pacific coast as soon as the federal and provincial governments agree to lift a decades-old moratorium on drilling in the region. Jim Simpson, the president of Chevron Resources Canada, made the comments at a meeting of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary last Thursday night, which was attended by Gordon Campbell, the B.C. Premier. "[ChevronTexaco] is supportive of the government [in its efforts to lift the moratorium] but is also aware there are many issues to be resolved before we can discuss offshore drilling," said Lynn Lehr, a spokeswoman for the company. In his address, Mr Campbell said that his government expects to make an announcement regarding the moratorium within the next couple of weeks. Earlier this month, Mr Campbell met Herb Dhaliwal, the federal Minister of Natural Resources, to strike a deal with Ottawa that would lift the moratorium and open up the resource rich region to exploration. But allowing oil and gas companies to start drilling in areas such as the Charlotte Basin, which could contain ten billion barrels of oil and 26 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, roughly two and a half times the Hibernia reserves off Canada's east coast, is a hot button issue for environmentalists. That could make it difficult for the government to lift the moratorium, which has been in place since 1959. It was temporarily lifted in 1966 to permit the drilling of 14 exploratory wells. In 1972, the federal government, which has jurisdictional precedence in the development of offshore resources, re-invoked the moratorium. Richard Neufeld, the B.C. Minister of Energy, was also in Calgary this week, where he spoke privately with a number of energy companies, including Chevron. The discussions focused broadly on how British Columbia intends to proceed with its bid to lift the ban on offshore drilling. Petro-Canada, which is the only oil company other than Chevron Canada to hold leases in the area, declined to comment on the matter. Mr. Dhaliwal has said he is receptive to lifting the moratorium. "I've always said, if we can develop our resources and do it in an environmentally sustainable way, then I would be open to looking at exploration offshore British Columbia," he said. David Anderson, the federal Minister of the Environment, however, expressed caution about moving too quickly on the issue of exploration. "We want to make sure a clear analysis of the risks and a clear analysis of the benefits shows that it is desirable to lift that moratorium. We have not got those studies. The studies and going to be very expensive, they are going to cost a lot of money," he said. The studies have to examine issues like wave patterns, ocean conditions and the condition of the sea bed. B.C. offshore regions lie along a volcanic faultline. As well, Mr. Anderson said, further studies of the fish, bird and other sea and shore life will be required to assess the impact of exploration and drilling activity. "I hope they [the oil companies] are willing to bring their chequebook to the table to do the studies required because I can see them spending tens of millions of dollars," he said. Mr. Anderson said the private sector should bear the burden of the costs of developing the offshore. "That's my preference. The science work done by the private sector saves the public sector money," he said.
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