Clyde River’s seismic fight moves south
“Because we live there, that’s our water"
TORONTO — Clyde River mayor Jerry Natanine is surprisingly relaxed and at ease as he addresses a suited crowd in a Toronto hotel — at his first southern conference.
It’s the end of a two-day summit on public engagement and consultation, but Natanine’s Nov. 6 audience listens intently to hear the story of a battle being waged by an Inuit hamlet 3,000 kilometres to the north.
In less than an hour, Natanine pulls his audience back to the 1970s: when Panarctic Oils blasted Arctic waters with dynamite in search of oil and gas, sometimes killing sea mammals and fish along a coastline inhabited by Inuit subsistence hunters.
Fast forward to 2010, when a group of Norwegian companies called Multi-Klient Invest begins eyeing a five-year seismic testing scheme in the waters of Baffin Bay and David Strait.
By the time the National Energy Board came to Clyde River in 2011 to meet with different organizations about the proposed testing, a number of local opposition groups had already formed, Natanine recalled.
The fear revolved around the potential environmental impacts the 260-decibel underwater seismic explosions might have on local wildlife — almost double the sound produced by a low-flying jet.
The next few years were “very intense and emotional” in Clyde River, Natanine said, but by 2013 “everyone was united and fighting the cause.”
“The government, these companies… they’re real good at deflecting. And now I’m thankful for that, because I know how to deflect questions too,” he joked, making reference to martial artist Bruce Lee.
“Because we live there,” Natanine told the crowd, “that’s our water.”
An audience member asked about the culture of protest in Nunavut communities.
There hasn’t traditionally been one, Natanine replied, noting a July protest against seismic testing was one of the only he could recall being held in Clyde River.
“We don’t have a word for [protest] in Inuktitut,” he said. “We don’t call it anything.”
But whether the community intended to or not, the dissent in Clyde River has now reached a national, and even international audience.
The same day Natanine addressed the Nov. 6 conference, Greenpeace, the environment group that has thrown its support behind Clyde River’s legal challenge, launched an international petition to solicit wider support.
The online petition invites people to send emails to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and National Energy Board chair and CEO Peter Watson to demonstrate their backing for Clyde River.
“I think [Greenpeace] has had a really big impact, it just can’t be measured,” Natanine said. “I just hope everyone understands that people live there (in Nunavut); people depend on and care about animals.”
It’s not clear where Clyde River’s legal action will be heard, but Natanine said the initial hearing should happen sometime in February 2015.
While groups in Clyde River have submitted their evidence — affidavits from local residents, including Natanine, and scientists who have extensively studied the Baffin region — Natanine said some of that evidence is now being disputed.
Lawsuit aside, Multi-Klient Invest is set to begin seismic testing in Baffin Bay in the ice-free season of 2015.
“Right now, we’re just waiting and praying,” Natanine said.