01/20/2012 02:16 EST | Updated 03/21/2012 05:12 EDT

Review of proposal to drill Old Harry site in Gulf of St. Lawrence put on hold

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - A review of a proposal to drill an exploration well on the Old Harry site in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has been put on hold.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board says it is delaying the review of the project near the Iles-de-la-Madeleine.

The federal-provincial regulator says it is doing so after receiving a request from Corridor Resources Inc. to issue a prohibition order.

The board says such an order can be made in the case of an environmental or social problem of a serious nature.

Phillip Knoll, president and CEO of Corridor Resources, said Friday the company made the request in a bid to keep the board's strategic environmental assessment (SEA) process from eating up time on the company's licence.

"We have until January 2015 to drill Phase I of our licence to drill an exploration hole," Knoll said from Halifax.

"We don't want the clock ticking on that licence," while the board conducts parallel processes for the strategic review along with another assessment specific to Corridor's project, Knoll said.

"What's most logical and most fair is to conduct this strategic environmental assessment first, and then we can go back to our project-specific licence," he said.

"It costs us money, and if the process goes on and concludes for some reason that we can't undertake certain activities in the Gulf, then we won't be able to go forward with our program."

Knoll said the company is in "an ongoing process" to attract a joint venture partner for the Old Harry project.

Corridor's plans for Old Harry have angered environmental groups who say drilling should not be allowed in a sensitive marine area.

The region has also been the source of discord between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador because it straddles a disputed boundary between the two provinces.

Old Harry has been estimated to potentially hold up to two billion barrels of recoverable oil — twice the size of Hibernia east of St. John's, N.L.

But it's not clear whether the geological structure of the site and other factors will be conducive for hydrocarbon development.