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Theoretically, you can drill anywhere on either side of these once-united continents and find oil or gas.

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In order to reverse the deeply held pessimism about Nova Scotia’s oil prospects, Mac Mullin had to demonstrate the potential for significant new discoveries.

Given the dramatic industry exodus, it meant starting from scratch, and Mac Mullin did what politicians and bureaucrats typically recommend in a crisis—he commissioned a study.

In just five years, gas production would begin to plunge, and soon after that there would be almost no royalties at all.

Already deep in debt after the decline of the province’s lifeblood cod, lobster and timber businesses, Nova Scotia would be in trouble. What followed was an extraordinary journey in which Mac Mullin, a burly native of the province with a broad grin and blow-dried hair, sought to prove the experts wrong.

To back it up, he would have to persuade his bosses to spend $15 million from spartan provincial funds on specialists with an extremely arcane skill: paleogeology, the painstaking reconstruction of the long-ago world.

“We could have sat and waited for the demise, but no one wanted that,” Mac Mullin said over breakfast in this tawdry port.

Where they have left the conditions for the creation of hydrocarbons has been a matter of accident—a rare and specific sequence of geologic events.

Numerous of those sequences happened in what is called the Atlantic Margin, a string of basins that links Europe, Africa and North and South America, following a path from Tierra del Fuego and the Cape of Good Hope in the South Atlantic to the northern waters off of Newfoundland, Greenland and the United Kingdom.

Pangaea is only the latest of numerous supercontinents in the earth’s history.

At approximately 300-million- to 500-million-year intervals, for at least 3 billion years and perhaps longer, plate tectonics have created and broken up these land masses.

He contracted it to a group of retired BP scientists at a UK firm called RPS.

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