Fresh from a battle with a Beatle, Danny Williams offers BC advice

B.C.'s offshore resources would 'transform' province
The benefits would be enormous, chamber lunch told
Scott Simpson, Vancouver Sun, November 28, 2006

British Columbia's vast offshore oil and natural gas resources should be recognized and developed as one of Canada's best opportunities for economic growth, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams told a receptive audience at a B.C. Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday.

Williams, one-time president of an offshore oil and gas company working off Canada's fossil-fuel-rich east coast, said it would be easy to adopt a pessimistic attitude and shy away from the rich opportunity off B.C.'s coast.

But he said the opportunities are too great to ignore, and that the industry can develop in a way that will minimize adverse environmental impacts.

Williams said Newfoundland's three offshore oil and gas projects, coupled with resource developments such as the Voisey Bay nickel deposit, have given the province the strongest rate of economic growth in Canada.

B.C. can expect the same, Williams suggested.

"It would completely transform what is already a very, very beautiful province," he said.

At peak production, the three Newfoundland projects will account for almost 50 per cent of Canada's annual production of light crude oil -- and further reserves showing even greater potential have been estimated.

"Newfoundland and Labrador has sometimes been described disparagingly as the poor cousin of Confederation -- as defeatists who do not want to know, or do not know, how to take care of themselves," Williams said.

"The unemployment rate in 2006 is the lowest it has been in 25 years. Since 1996, the average annual labour force has grown by nine per cent. In 2006, personal income will grow by four per cent."

B.C.'s offshore oil and gas resources are believed to be the largest of any single North American jurisdiction. They have been locked up under a federal moratorium for more than 30 years, although the provincial government is eager to see Ottawa lift its ban on exploration and development.

Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, Williams said, "It's easy to be very pessimistic, and I can give you five reasons to say why not."

But he said there are "ways of doing it responsibly.

"The benefits that could come back to British Columbia ... would be enormous," Williams added.

He noted that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has expressed a desire to make Canada into an international "energy powerhouse" and said development of the B.C. offshore, coupled with expanded activity in his own province, would help accomplish that vision.

"The implications are huge, the energy implications for this country," Williams said. "We have a responsibility as provinces and as a country to seize this great opportunity, and we are going to be world leaders here. We think British Columbia is a great opportunity."

Last week, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell mentioned during a question-and-answer session with a business audience in Hong Kong that exploration could be underway within two to three years.

Over the past two years since a federal government panel declined to offer a definitive verdict on the merits of the moratorium, the provincial government has been working at a grassroots level, with first nations and coastal communities, to make an economic case for commencing exploration.

Williams urged the chamber, one of the industry's strongest proponents in B.C., to "keep the attention level up."

"Your premier is basically indicating that he wants this advanced ... within the next three or four years. You need to work with those that are confident, but you also need to educate those that are negative so that you can show to them the benefits that will come."

Chamber president John Winter described Williams's speech as "some words of wisdom from people who've done it.

"The thing about the offshore industry around the world is that every location is unique in its own ability to get it done, but the results, the benefits, are the same for everybody who's in the business.

"As long as you can negotiate the best kind of economic deal and look after the environment at the same time. Anybody who has seen the North Atlantic knows that if you can overcome those obstacles, I don't think the ones presented here are any more formidable."