Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut July 10, 2014 - 8:21 am

Nunavut oil spill would be hard to detect, harder to clean up: NPC report

Study done for Nunavut Planning Commission recommends developing local response capacity

While many technologies have been developed to detect and monitor oil spills in water, a new report says there is little research available to show how they would perform in an Arctic region, where sea ice can be a year-round factor. (FILE PHOTO)
While many technologies have been developed to detect and monitor oil spills in water, a new report says there is little research available to show how they would perform in an Arctic region, where sea ice can be a year-round factor. (FILE PHOTO)

A new report prepared for the Nunavut Planning Commission says there is very limited knowledge of how to respond to an oil spill in waters off Nunavut or to how to predict how far spilled oil could travel under sea ice.

It also calls on Nunavut communities to build their own capacity for dealing with potential spills.

The report, called Oil Spill Detection and Modeling Report in the Hudson and Davis Straits, was commissioned to respond to concerns among Nunavummiut about seismic testing and potential oil and gas development off the coast of Baffin Bay.

The commission, tasked with developing the Draft Nunavut Land Use Plan, heard during consultations that one of the biggest concerns among Inuit in the Qikiqtani region is food security.

Nunavummiut wanted to know what would happen to the sea mammals they hunt for food if an oil spill were to occur.

The findings of the new report, released July 4, aren’t so reassuring.

While a number of different technologies have been developed to detect and monitor oil on open water, the report found that little research is available to describe how oil behaves in marine environments where ice and snow are factors.

That’s particularly true for the Hudson and Davis Straits, critical corridors for marine transportation in Nunavut and primary access points for the delivery of goods to communities such as Kimmirut and Cape Dorset, and to the Kivalliq region.

The paper looked at research on oil spills done over the last few decades elsewhere in the world — and found that sea ice is not considered in most oil spill models.

And even when it is, the formulations over-simplify the problem, it said.

Research into oil spill management should be looking to the latest ocean-ice and atmospheric models, the report suggested, while also incorporating upcoming satellite missions in spill monitoring.

Snow and ice can impact the behaviour of oil in many ways, the report said.

On the one hand, cold temperatures can slow the movement and spread of oil. On the other hand, oil absorbed into snow and ice could become stuck until the spring melt.

The fate of an Arctic oil spill would depend entirely on ice conditions at the time of the spill, which can vary greatly, the report said.

For example, an oil spill during freeze-up could see oil pool and freeze under the growing ice sheet.

And at ice break-up, the oil would then be carried on ice floes and distributed through tidal action.

Snow and ice floes can also obscure oil making it difficult it quantify, the report said.

In the case of a fall or winter spill, the report suggested any company responsible for a spill would likely have to wait until the sea ice melted before they could attempt to clean up the region.

And during that time, an oil slick could potentially travel hundreds of kilometres and kill countless sea mammals.

The report goes on to recommend that, if oil and gas development proceeds in Hudson or Davis Strait, communities must be prepared to respond to a spill right away.

That means training local people in oil spill awareness along with shoreline protection, data gathering and remote sensing.

“In order to facilitate effective shoreline cleanup in the event of a spill, the Hudson and Davis Straits should be mapped to identify environmentally sensitive shoreline areas, as defined by Environment Canada criteria, traditional knowledge and community importance,” the report recommended.

A central contact point should also be established with the Government of Nunavut to coordinate oil spill response across the territory, it said, including training and interaction with other levels of government, the report said.

The report comes as the National Energy Board approves a five-year seismic testing program in Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait, opposed by many Baffin residents.

But the NPC said Bernard Valcourt, the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, along with the National Energy Board, aren’t paying much attention to their concerns.

“The Nunavut Marine Council, in which the [Nunavut Planning] Commission is a member, advised the National Energy Board and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada of the public concern and limitations in industry knowledge of how to react to oil spills when sea ice is present,” the commission said July 4.

“The NEB and AANDC, as well as Minister Bernard Valcourt, dismissed the NMC’s concerns.”

That’s likely a reference to Valcourt’s rejection of a recommendation from the NMC to delay seismic testing until after his department completes a strategic environmental assessment of the region.

Oil Spill Detection and Modeling Report in the Hudson and Davis Straits was prepared by a research firm called LookNorth in St. John’s, Nfld.

A copy of the full report is available here.

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(13) Comments:

#1. Posted by Jim Milne on July 10, 2014

As was demonstrated by the Deep Water Horizon spill, in 2010, the technology isn’t even good enough to deal with oil in open water. It is madness to think that a spill in ice-covered waters won’t be devastating and could be cleaned.

#2. Posted by Pond Inleter on July 10, 2014

Cape Hatt outside of Pond Inlet was utilized as a testing site by the US for spills, for over 25 years, they dumped barrels of oil into the water near the community to see how they would react..why are there no stories on it?  As well, about 10 years ago, a diesel supply hose from a tanker popped off the hook up to the land supply line, spilling, hundreds of gallons of diesel into the beachfront, the community smelled of diesel for 2 to 3 days, Coast guard went out to look for it, they said they could not find it…..hmmmmm…

#3. Posted by Polar Watcher on July 10, 2014

The research into how oil interacts with arctic waters and ice has been ongoing both at sea and in a lab outside Ottawa and commissioned by the GREEN program and continued through other funding. The statement from NPC is false and idiotic. Lots of study on current speeds and oil reaction to arctic waters, we have the Canadian Arctic Oil Spill Recovery Plan that was updated not too long ago. What is not known so much is unprocessed Hydro Carbons from a deep sea well. Fuel from a Tanker or shore is well documented, clean up in Ice is well known and equipment is available, one thing though, communities need to take those sealift containers full of oil spill recovery items and get them close to the oil manifolds or where the equipment can be launched quickly. Also, when a tanker refuels the community,ensure the boom off the hose and operation to avoid problems. And finally, keep the Narwhals away from the floater hose, they really get attracted to it when charged (full of gas or diesel)...studies are continually being developed.

#4. Posted by Putuguk on July 10, 2014

I wonder why anyone would want or need to look into this.

There are natural oil seeps in north Baffin that can be studied without any need to dump anything new into the ocean.

Given that these oil seeps have been happening since time immemorial it would be good to know how many sea animals have been killed and contaminated by this.

Given the level of concern over oil spills, this sort of research should be given top priority.

Perhaps we should not wait for commercial oil development, but start developing the resources in the communities now to clean up the oil that is spilling naturally into waters right this minute.

If oil was ever produced in this area, another thing to consider is whether tapping these oil fields would stop the natural oil seeps?

#5. Posted by Polar Watcher on July 10, 2014

As far as developing local response teams,the Federal Government supplied all the equipment for 10 communities in now Nunavut, trained local people what to do and the Territorial Government was to provide the funding for further training from themselves. The Federal government provided all monies for these communities, the choice was based on ability to respond (due to water current) and other risk factors (Polar Bear sensitivities, marine sensitivities..etc). The Territorial government was to make a similar investment for continued support. That did not happen. Call your Minister and ask if the government is going to increase training in areas where spills could be controlled and cleaned. Land basaed clean up is taught and there have been programs from GN-Environment that assist in this training. I am mainly speaking on the level of a spill on water (ie. re-fill from Tanker or shore to water) Pond Inlet and Hall Beach, you could not contain an oil spill due to water current speeds, boom to contain can not withstand those current speeds, best hope is it goes ashore and you could clean the shore,...

#6. Posted by Polar Watcher on July 11, 2014

Your correct, there are natural seepages from fractures, most notably in western arctic, but we are talking about man influenced release of that pressure of Hydro Carbon in the environment, and that is not natural earth process, so, lets not unless we are sure we can shut off at source when we need to…only way.

#7. Posted by Markku Järvinen on July 11, 2014

Please go to is the answer for oil spill problems also in icy conditions. Look up the videos.
We are looking cooperating company to bild up a real size pilot vessel in Finland or in Canada.

Best regards
Markku Järvinen

Oilwhale Oy LTD

#8. Posted by Bear Code on July 13, 2014

You Can’t Clean Up An Oil Spill.  It Has Never Been Done And Never Will.  It’s A Lie.  Stop Lying.

#9. Posted by Markku Järvinen on July 14, 2014

Sorry, Bear Code. Do not lose your temper!
We have tested it.
We take oil off from ice inside the vessel in continuing prosess.

#10. Posted by Markku Järvinen on July 14, 2014

I´ll like continued discussion, if needeed!

#11. Posted by Bear Code on July 14, 2014

Hey Markku Järvinen stop lying there is no system to collect oil in the Arctic so stop lying to people.

#12. Posted by Markku Järvinen on July 14, 2014

Hei vaan Bear Code,
I am not lying.

#13. Posted by Bear Code on July 14, 2014

Dream on pal, people like you must get paid for your propaganda, any idiot knows how impossible your statement is.

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