Friday, May 14, 2010

Gulf oil spill burying B.C. offshore dreams

All that oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico and washing up on U.S. shorelines is going to have an impact in B.C.
The provincial government's eagerness to see oil and gas drilling off the B.C. coast has faded in the recent years. Since Richard Neufeld left the cabinet for the Senate in 2008, there has been less talk about the potential offshore.
But the government is still working away - and spending money - on clearing the path for development of what could be huge oil and gas resources.
It's gone more slowly than the Liberals expected. The Campbell government's throne speech in 2003 predicted that drilling would be under way by now.
"By 2010, your government wants to have an offshore oil and gas industry that is up and running, environmentally sound and booming with job creation," the government boldly forecast then. The promise was always that drilling would only be allowed if it could be done safely.
A government task force had reported in 2002 that "there is no inherent or fundamental inadequacy of the science or technology, properly applied in an appropriate regulatory framework, to justify a blanket moratorium."
And even in their second term, the Liberals were pressing ahead with efforts to launch the industry.
But there were several problems. The federal government wasn't keen on the political cost of allowing drilling. Neufeld noted in 2006 that a minority federal government wouldn't likely tackle the issue.
Energy companies didn't put B.C. offshore development high on their priority lists.
And the opposition within the province is strong - including some First Nations in a position to block drilling.
That opposition has grown as each day passes with more oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.
The petroleum industry has touted its safety record. With modern drilling techniques, nothing major could go wrong, it maintained. Any small leaks or spills could be quickly contained.
But those "trust us" claims are in tatters.
The Deepwater Horizon was a new drilling rig. U.S. regulations are similar to Canada's. The well owner was BP, a giant energy company (which also hopes to drill offshore in Canada's north, where it has leases).
The contractor was Transocean, another giant with operations around the world - including on Canada’s east coast. And some work was done by Halliburton, another global giant.
Yet the well blew out; the rig exploded; 11 people died; and oil has been pouring into the ocean since April 20.
In more than three weeks, no company or government agency has found a way to stop the oil, which is flowing into the ocean at 33,000 litres per hour.
In their first public explanations, at a U.S. congressional committee, executives from the three companies could offer no explanation. BP said Transocean was responsible for rig operation. Transocean pointed to possible problems with Halliburton's work on a concrete casing. Not our responsibility, said Halliburton.
The potential reserves off B.C.'s coast are understandably attractive to government. There could be almost 10 billion barrels of oil and more than 40 trillion cubic feet of gas. That's about $170 billion worth of gas alone. The government could take in something like $35 billion, according to the Liberals.
But after the Gulf disaster, the oil and gas are going to be staying there for a long time.
The spill isn't just a problem for offshore drilling proponents.
The images of oil slicks and fouled birds are profoundly unhelpful for Enbridge's plans to build a pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat. That project alone would face many challenges.
But the project would see the oil transported to markets in tankers cruising through B.C. coastal waters to export markets.
No worries, the proponents maintain. Today's tankers are capable of operating with no risk to the environment. Technology and other advances mean nothing could go wrong.
Which sounds awfully similar to the claims of the offshore oil industry before the gulf disaster.
Footnote: Earlier this month, Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom said the spill hasn't changed the government's position on the offshore. "If it can be done properly, I think people will entertain it; if it can't, then it wouldn't be," he told reporters.

1 comment:

Norman Farrell said...

Hey Mr. Lekstrom, as long as the industry uses fail-safe safety devices, everything should be fine.

By the way, Transocean's drilling platform "Deepwater Horizon" met all the stringent safety requirements of its Port of Registry, The Marshall Islands, a famous center of international shipping.

As I understand it, Transocean is be willing to pay up to $27 million in damages so that should limit the American taxpayers' exposure at least a little. No doubt they would be equally generous here.