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Living Oceans hopes offshore drilling moratorium becomes permanent

Growing Gulf Coast oil spill underlines risks to B.C.



While the most recent proposal to lift the federal government's long-standing ban on offshore drilling and tankers on B.C.'s coastline has met with little public support, the Living Oceans Society believes that the issue will continue to come up until the ban is made permanent.

The recent explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico underlines the risks, says Jennifer Lash, executive director of Living Oceans.

"It's disturbing," she said of the Gulf oil spill. "The last time, in the '80s, when we took a serious look at lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling on the coast, and there was a hot discussion about that, the Exxon Valdez spill happened - and ultimately I think that's why government decided not to proceed.

"It's unfortunate to watch other areas get seriously harmed to educate us and remind us as to what can happen here, but we do need to look at this and learn from it. Of course we'd prefer not to have offshore drilling anywhere and that all coasts were safe."

All of the safety measures designed to prevent against a spill of the magnitude of the one on the Gulf Coast failed, says Lash, who believes that these types of accidents are inevitable no matter what precautions are taken.

The British Petroleum oil rig explosion took place on April 20, killing 11 workers. A mechanism should have capped the flow of oil in the event of an accident but the system failed. Now it's estimated that at least 5,000 barrels of oil and up to 60,000 barrels are leaking from the sea floor every day, and the oil slick could reach land this week as attempts to contain or burn off the spill have failed. The cost of the clean-up has so far been projected at $8 billion, although the combined impact on tourism, shrimp fishing and other coastal injuries could be far higher.

The Canadian moratorium on offshore drilling and tanker traffic off the coast of B.C. dates back to 1972, but the policy has been revisited several times over the decades. Most recently in 2007 the B.C. Energy Plan re-affirmed the province's commitment to offshore oil and gas exploration and development and formalized the province's request of the federal government to lift the moratorium - despite extensive discussions with coastal First Nations that found very little support for drilling.

The federal government has not changed its stance, however, although they have been in discussions over offshore oil development in the Arctic.

Lash believes the issue of lifting the moratorium was already dead at the time of the Gulf spill, and will be hard-pressed to find any popular support for a long time after this latest accident. However, her group is concerned by plans to build a pipeline from Alberta's oil sands to the coast of B.C. to export oil by tanker.