Offshore oil and gas study discovers modest benefits

June 24, 2004, vol. 30, no. 5
By Stuart Colcleugh

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A recent SFU study says the economic benefits to B.C. from offshore oil and gas development would be modest compared to other resource investments, while creating significant risks to the marine environment from oil spills.

The school of resource and environmental management (REM) study, commissioned by the Coastal First Nations, was submitted last month to a federal panel reviewing the moratorium.

The provincial government is actively pursuing offshore oil and gas production by 2010. But it acknowledges that negotiations with native groups and the federal government could stall its plans. Both parties favor continuation of a 33-year-old moratorium until environmental, social and jurisdictional issues have been resolved.

The report suggests oil and gas production between Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands would likely be modest, yielding less than 200 direct jobs and $18 million annually in provincial royalties.

And it concludes that production would likely result in more than 480 small oil spills (1-500 barrels) and a 19-per cent chance of a major spill (more than 1000 barrels) over 25 years, based on a U.S. federal study of a similarly size project in Cook Inlet, Alaska

Offshore oil has become a federal election issue, with Liberal environment minister David Anderson favoring continuation of the moratorium and Conservative leader Stephen Harper supporting the province's fast-track position.

Study manager Tom Gunton, an associate professor of REM who was B.C.'s deputy environment minister from 1993-96, says a more effective way to promote coastal economic opportunities would be to provide added support for the forestry, tourism and fishing sectors.

He says all three are less capital intensive and would provide more jobs per dollar invested than offshore oil and gas production.

Either way, he says, the chance of a B.C. offshore oil and gas industry within the next decade is remote. “Judging from the experience on the east coast, we're looking at a 15-20 year process and we're just in the first year.”

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