Nunavut Community Opposes Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration

by Warren Bernauer /The Media Co-op

iceberg_0The Inuit community of Clyde River has restated its opposition to a proposal by the oil industry to conduct offshore seismic surveys near the community’s hunting grounds. The proposal is currently being assessed by the National Energy Board (NEB), and Nunavut communities are waiting for the board to finish analyzing submissions and make a decision on the file. Residents of several communities on Baffin Island have repeatedly opposed this proposal since it was first brought forward in 2011. Nunavut’s Inuit organizations have recommended the proposal not be approved until a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is conducted on the broader question of oil and gas development in the area. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has initiated an SEA, and preliminary meetings were held in Baffin communities in February 2014. However, the NEB has indicated that the SEA process will not alter its assessment of the proposed seismic survey. The consortium proposing the survey has begun advertising job openings for the proposed project in local media, with an expected start date of August 2014.

On February 25, 2014, the Hamlet Council and Hunters and Trappers Organization of Clyde River passed a joint motion, reaffirming their opposition to offshore oil and gas exploration and development, including seismic surveys. The motion stated that, as elected representatives of the community, both organizations have a “responsibility to protect the environment and safeguard our traditional way of life from rampant or unwanted development.” The motion goes on to state that at recent consultation meetings in the community “it was clearly, unequivocally and adamantly articulated…that our community is FIRMLY against any such oil and gas activity in our area and throughout Nunavut.” The resolution concludes that “both the Municipal Government and the Hunters and Trappers Organization of Clyde River speak in one voice, clearly opposing the proposed oil and gas seismic activity.”

This resolution follows a previous joint motion and letter by the Clyde River Hamlet and HTO in May of 2013, also opposing seismic surveys in the area. The joint letter made clear that the community was not against development or mineral extraction in general. “Like all Nunavut communities, we need and support economic and other opportunities that contribute towards enhanced levels of employment for our people”. However, it also made clear that the Inuit of Clyde River wish to balance economic development and wage labour opportunities with maintaining subsistence hunting. “Regardless of any economic development, we will need to protect and sustain our 4000 year plus old culture of subsistence harvesting in this region.” The letter argued that proposed oil and gas activity was not consistent with this balance. “The proposed seismic testing and the resulting oil and gas development it would bring are not balanced development. It is utterly against the global movement to decrease global warming and to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels”. It concluded by stating that the Hamlet and HTO are “firmly opposed to seismic testing in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait”.

 

The proposal

The current proposal was submitted by a consortium of three companies – TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company ASA, Petroleum GeoServices and Multi Klient Invest AS (“the consortium”). Officially titled the “2011 Northeastern Canada 2D Marine Seismic Survey”, the proposal is to conduct seismic surveys in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait. The project would take place seasonally over five years, and is intended to identify potential oil deposits below the ocean floor.

This work would involve a ship using air guns to blast loud bursts of sound under the water. Sensors would then detect and record the way sound bounces off the ocean floor, providing information about underwater geology. The data collected would then be sold by the consortium, to the oil industry, which would use it to locate potential oil and gas deposits to begin exploratory drilling.

The proposal overlaps with important habitat and migration routes for various species of marine mammal Inuit harvest for subsistence. The offshore fishing grounds for Nunavut’s commercial fishery also overlap with the proposed survey lines. This has led to serious concerns that the loud noise emitted during surveys may alter the migration routes or physically damage the hearing of marine mammals. It has likewise caused concern that the surveys may cause fish to disperse, causing reduced catches for the local commercial fishery.

The consortium submitted an environmental impact statement in April of 2011. Nexus Coastal Resource Management, a consulting firm established by professionals from Dalhousie University, was hired by the consortium to engage with communities. Following a long period of information requests, the NEB held hearings in four Baffin Island communities in April and May of 2013. Final comments and the consortium’s responses were submitted in early November of 2013. The NEB is in the process of assessing the submissions in order to reject or approve the proposal.

It is important to stress that this is NOT the proposal for seismic surveys in Lancaster Sound which Inuit communities, with the support of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and environmental organizations, successfully opposed. The current seismic proposal would not cover Lancaster Sound.

The proposal for Lancaster Sound received significant attention from the national media. However, aside from local sources, there has been no media attention to the controversy surrounding the current proposal. Thus far, there has been no official involvement from environmental or other political organizations, aside from the work of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, the organization which represents Inuit from the Baffin region under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

 

Nunavut

Nunavut is a Canadian Territory encompassing the Eastern Arctic and most High Arctic Islands. Located almost entirely above the treeline, Nunavut is sparsely populated and none of its communities are connected to one another, or southern Canada, through road or rail. Inuit, the Indigenous people inhabiting the Canadian Arctic, constitute a demographic majority in the territory.

The Nunavut Territory was created as part of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA). Through this agreement, the Inuit of Nunavut exchanged their Aboriginal Title to the area for money, fee simple title and resource rights to some lands, and a series of constitutionally entrenched specific rights. The NLCA also created a series of new governance institutions. The new territory came with a new public Government of Nunavut (GN). New Inuit organizations were created to manage the land and capital Inuit received through the agreement, and to represent Inuit politically under the agreement. These include Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated – a territory-wide organization – and three regional organizations. The Qikiqtani Inuit Association is the regional organization for Baffin Island. A new regulatory regime for resource extraction – including an impact review board and planning commission – was also created.

Because the seismic survey proposal lies outside of the Nunavut Settlement Area, it lies outside of the jurisdiction of Nunavut’s planning commission and review board. This also means NTI and QIA do not possess resource or other property rights to the area the consortium is proposing to survey.

 

Community opposition

The joint motions from Clyde River follow years of opposition from residents of the region.

Residents of Clyde River submitted a series of petitions to the NEB opposing the proposal in June of 2011. (The petitions are available herehere, and here). In May of 2013, residents of Pond Inlet submitted another petition opposing seismic surveys.

In October of 2013, the Qiqiktani Inuit Association (QIA) wrote to the NEB, and requested that NEB not grant a permit until a strategic environmental assessment is conducted to consider the broader impacts of opening the Baffin region to oil and gas development. Shortly thereafter Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated unanimously passed a motion supporting QIA’s position. The motion requested that “no permits related to oil and gas development, which includes seismic testing, be issued in the Baffin Bay, Davis Strait, Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, Foxe Basin, Lancaster Sound and Parry Channel until such time as a Strategic Environmental Assessment is completed and Inuit concerns are addressed to the satisfaction of Inuit.”

 

Public hearings

Firm opposition was also expressed by many community members at NEB hearings held in the spring of 2013 in Pond InletClyde RiverQikiqtarjuaq and Iqaluit.

In Pond Inlet, Niko Inuarak* told the NEB, “the people in Pond Inlet are against it. We were against it in the first place and we’ve been against it since 1970s. So we are going to write a petition for this so just so you guys know. And thank you for coming here. Hopefully we won’t see you guys again and you’ll stop coming here to do seismic test.”

At the hearing in Clyde River*, Joavie Etuangat said “The people of Clyde River have been going against any projects. It’s unfortunate that you keep coming back when we didn’t want anything, any project to proceed.”

Samuel Naqingaq*, chairperson of the Qikiqtarjuaq Hunters and Trappers Organization told the NEB, “On behalf of the hunters in the community, we still have a concern what you are proposing because…a lot of us think that it’s going to affect our animals, what we eat.”

Nigel Qaumariaq, an Inuk from Iqaluit, attended the hearings held in all four communities. At the final hearing, held in Iqaluit, he stated, “to think that there’s any support from any communities, that is very wrong. There has been moments where there’s this tug and pull between modern and traditional way but I have not seen any support for this project.”

“So therefore, I will say I will use my every last ounce of energy to make sure that this project doesn’t go ahead until the communities are comfortable.”

 

Opposition to offshore oil drilling

For many Inuit at the hearings, the issue is much bigger than this specific proposal. A major source of concern and opposition is the potential impacts of the oil development the seismic survey will facilitate.

Ezekiel Muktar* from Pond Inlet told the NEB, “Drilling in ocean, I don’t want that to take place at all and I want to be heard about that.”

“This area is only for hunting. It is only — it is our only hunting ground and we are very protective of this area and it would be great if you could move off to your other projects. This area, the ocean is our only hunting area and the land, the animals will be affected. So, somehow, your projects, papers, letters, take them and go home and don’t come me back into this area. It’s no good — this project is no good for me.”

Concerns with the inability to clean up potential oil spills in the Arctic Ocean were prominent. At the hearing in Pond Inlet, Cornelius Kadloo Nutanik* said, “Right now, I don’t want to give approval because of this reason. There are no equipment to clean things up that — when there’s a ship that can clean up a mess, a big mess, then we can start giving approval. That there’s nothing — no equipment like that right now and nothing to clean up oils if — and in Pond Inlet, there’s no — nothing to clean up — clean things up.”

These broader concerns with opening the Baffin region to oil development are not considered in the NEB assessment, due to its narrow assessment of cumulative impacts. The scope of the review states that consideration of the cumulative effects of other activities “will be limited to those for which formal plans or applications have been made.”

 

Seismic surveys and narwhal strandings

In Pond Inlet, some concerns were related to narwhal becoming stranded in sea ice in 2008 after seismic surveys were conducted. Roughly 500 narwhals were stranded in a fiord as sea ice formed, and over 400 had to be culled by local hunters.

Joshua Arreak*, a resident of Pond Inlet, told the NEB, “in 2008 we had narwhal frozen in, and apparently there have been seismic activity in Baffin Bay at that time. We understand that narwhal flee activity. Well, marine wildlife flee, especially narwhal, flee activity. And we understood that they were frozen and due to seismic activity.”

Biologists have also identified seismic surveys as a potential cause of the entrapment, and have called for further studies on the effects of seismic surveys on narwhal before further surveys are carried out.

 

Commercial fishery

Baffin Island is home to an expanding commercial fishing industry. The four major territorial organizations are the Arctic Fishery Alliance (AFA), the Baffin Fishery Coalition (BFC), Cumberland Sound Fisheries Ltd., and the Qikiqtaaluk Corporation. Collectively, these organizations hold Nunavut’s shrimp and turbot quota. The commercial fishery is an important source of employment for Inuit throughout Baffin Island.

BFC outlined the fishing industry’s concerns with seismic surveys in a presentation at the 2012 Nunavut Petroleum Workshop. The presentation indicated that the key concerns are the potential for fish to disperse while seismic surveys are conducted, and a related reduction in harvest for commercial fishers. The BFC also called for increased communication between the fishing industry and the seismic consortium, and a clear compensation package in the event of reductions in harvest. These concerns were voiced by the BFC, the AFA, and the Government of Nunavut in submissions to the National Energy Board’s review of the seismic proposal.

 

No compensation?

Concerns with a lack of a firm compensation package were also a concern at the public hearings. Some felt that there was no clear avenue for Inuit to be compensated if the proposed survey affects the marine mammals and fish that the communities rely on for subsistence harvesting.

Nigel Qaumariaq told the NEB in Iqaluit, “The company has been dodging it and avoiding compensation issues that Inuit have been bringing up. They’ll say, “The company will respond. Come talk to us”. That’s not acceptable. That is not acceptable because the company will say, “Prove it”. Then you have to go to science to prove it. No other mechanism, no other mechanism to determine what the effects will be.”

 

No benefits?

The question of local benefits was a common theme at the public hearings. Nigel Qaumariaq told the NEB, “That’s the biggest concern right now is: How can Inuit benefit? Because, right now, Inuit will not get anything outside of the NSA, according to our Land Claim. It’s just not there.”

Because the proposed survey lies outside of the Nunavut Settlement Area, there does not seem to be any mechanism to ensure local communities substantially benefit from the proposal. Royalties and taxes will inevitably flow out of the region, and there is no requirement for the consortium to negotiate an impact and benefit agreement with communities.

The consortium will have to submit a benefit plan to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, which may include commitments to local hiring and contracting. The consortium has committed to training and hiring marine mammal observers and community liaison workers from nearby communities. The consortium also claims it has discussed “other possible benefits with the Hamlet councils and we will continue to do so.” These discussions do not appear to be available on the public record. However, the fact that Clyde River’s Hamlet council has reaffirmed its opposition to the proposal implies that the Hamlet is not satisfied with the consortium’s plans for local benefits.

The training and employment to which they’ve committed themselves only amounts to a few temporary and seasonal jobs. Given the potential for negative impacts and lack of substantial community benefits, it is difficult to see this proposal as “development”. Simple robbery seems to be a much more apt description of what the consortium is proposing, from the perspective at least some Northerners. As the Hamlet of Pangnirtung explained during a meeting in 2012, “We have everything to lose and nothing to gain – we would be crazy to support it.”

 

Poor public relations?

The high degree of opposition to the proposal is likely due in part to the fact that the consortium seems unable to properly engage with Inuit communities. Some of the public information meetings the consortium held were so poorly planned that no one from the public attended.

The consortium neglected to bring environmental specialists to the public hearings, making them unable to respond to even the most basic of questions from the public about the potential impacts of the project. This was highlighted clearly in an exchange between Iqaluit resident Nigel Qaumariaq and Garry Morrow, a representative of the consortium.

Mr. Qaumariaq asked “I want to know from the company if it will affect walrus migration routes. And what information they have — do not refer me to the environmental impact statement, please tell me. And I don’t want to hear it afterwards.” Mr. Morrow responded, “Yes. We don’t have the answer for you.”

Mr. Qaumariaq went on to ask what affects the project might have on various species of seal. Mr. Morrow responded, “We don’t have an answer for you on that.”

Mr. Qaumariaq then asked what affects the project might have on Polar Bears. Mr. Morrow responded, “As you probably know, we’re here for the operations and so I know you didn’t want to hear but the environmental assessment’s been filed. So we’re more the operations guys, you know. I’m an operations person; so…”

It is, therefore, not surprising that the October 2013 submission from the QIA stated, in no uncertain terms, “The consultation strategy adopted by the proponents to date has not been effective to properly address the communities’ questions and concerns.”

 

Current status of process

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has responded to the QIA’s call for a strategic environmental assessment to be held on the question of offshore oil development near Baffin Island. Preliminary meetings were held in Baffin communities in February of 2014. At this point, there is no on-line public registry or other source of publicly available information on the strategic environmental assessment’s scope or process. Given the significance of the issues the process is intended to address – the wisdom of opening Baffin Bay and Davis Strait to oil and gas development – some would likely argue that the assessment should be transparent.

Meanwhile, the NEB assessment of the proposed seismic survey continues. In an e-mail dated February 26, 2014, a representative of the NEB indicated that it is in the process of reviewing submissions and will make its decision once this review is complete. The e-mail also indicated that the assessment will continue, despite AANDC’s strategic environmental assessment.

“The NEB is required to assess applications that are before the Board on a case-by-case basis.  The Board’s determination of the Project’s potential for significant environmental impacts under the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act (COGOA) is independent of possible or pending strategic or regional assessments and planning or management processes, although such information would be considered if it were available and appropriate.”

The consortium has begun advertising job openings for the proposed project in local media. According to the advertisement, “Work is planned to commence in August 2014″.

 

An issue of global concern

Concern and opposition regarding offshore seismic surveys is a global issue and by no means limited to Nunavut.

Biologists have raised concerns about the impact of surveys on fish and marine mammals in Nova Scotia. Media sources and marine biologists have speculated that offshore seismic surveys are responsible for stranding and killing whales in New ZealandIceland, and Ghana. Research from Norway suggests that seismic surveys cause fish to disperse, resulting in massive declines in cod catch for local fisheries.

In South Africa, concerns that offshore seismic surveys may lead to disruptions in sea mammal migration routes, preventing them from reaching breeding and feeding grounds and potentially causing strandings and deaths, led to the government suspending a proposed survey.

In Trinidad and Tobago, fishers received over $75 million in compensation payments between 2010 and 2013. Despite the payment of compensation, many fishers from the island nation remain resolutely opposed to the surveys and are becoming increasingly confrontational in their opposition. In September of 2013, a group called Fishermen and Friends of the Sea wrote to the government, requesting that seismic surveys be halted until a proper environmental impact study is conducted. Protests were held in October and November of 2013. In January 2014, local fishers engaged in direction action, leading a flotilla of fishing vessels to obstruct seismic surveys.

In the United States, marine conservation group Oceana submitted a petition in September of 2013, calling on the government to stop the proposed use of seismic surveys off the Atlantic Coast. In February of 2014, over 100 scientists signed a letter submitted to President Obama by Oceana, urging him to halt the Atlantic seismic proposal until new acoustic guidelines for marine mammals are developed.

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