Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut February 10, 2017 - 11:45 am

Has Ottawa shelved Nunavut oil and gas assessment?

Three years have passed since INAC began offshore oil and gas assessment; still no progress

LISA GREGOIRE
A map showing current oil and gas leases in eastern Nunavut, clustered around Southampton Island and at the mouth of Frobisher Bay. Other significant discovery licenses are clustered in the High Arctic around Melville and Ellef Ringnes islands. (MAP COURTESY INAC)
A map showing current oil and gas leases in eastern Nunavut, clustered around Southampton Island and at the mouth of Frobisher Bay. Other significant discovery licenses are clustered in the High Arctic around Melville and Ellef Ringnes islands. (MAP COURTESY INAC)
Bernie MacIsaac, director of lands and resources for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, right, with Cape Dorset representative Olayuk Akesuk, describes the lack of support for oil and gas development among communities of the Baffin region at the association’s annual general meeting in October 2013. (FILE PHOTO)
Bernie MacIsaac, director of lands and resources for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, right, with Cape Dorset representative Olayuk Akesuk, describes the lack of support for oil and gas development among communities of the Baffin region at the association’s annual general meeting in October 2013. (FILE PHOTO)

It appears that Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada has quietly shelved a strategic environmental assessment of offshore oil and gas development in the Baffin region.

It’s either that or the process is so badly stalled, officials don’t want to talk about it.

Nunatsiaq News has tried repeatedly for nearly three months, through phone calls and emails, to find out what’s happening with the assessment that began three years ago, in February 2014. But the department has provided zero information on it.

The strategic environmental assessment, or SEA, was supposed to take a broad look at how offshore oil and gas development could potentially impact Nunavut’s people, wildlife, land and economy ahead of any major hydrocarbon development here.

INAC submits a “Northern Oil and Gas Annual Report” every year. The last one, from 2015, mentions a Beaufort Regional Environmental Assessment but makes no mention of the strategic environmental assessment that was supposed to be underway in the eastern Arctic.

Now seems like an ideal time to do such an assessment since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has put all new offshore Arctic oil and gas exploration licenses on hold for at least five years.

But Trudeau’s moratorium doesn’t cover existing oil and gas explorations.

In Nunavut, there are 28 existing oil and gas leases:

Repsol Oil and Gas holds eight historic leases on the southern shores of Southhampton Island, some within 100 kilometres of Coral Harbour, and representing a total area of more than 103,000 hectares. According to the National Energy Board, these leases, granted in 1968, are valid but must be converted into exploration licenses to become active again;

Suncor Energy holds 19 significant discovery licenses offshore in the western High Arctic, in and around Melville, Ellef Ringnes and Bathurst islands, granted in 1987, and representing an area of more than 324,000 hectares; and

Husky Oil holds one 11,184-hectare significant discovery licence just outside the mouth of Frobisher Bay, about 300 km due east of Iqaluit, and granted in 1987.

All significant discovery licenses are just what they imply: a significant discovery of oil and-or gas accumulation. These special licenses are granted for an indefinite term: in other words, they don’t expire.

There are also dozens of oil and gas exploration permits and significant discovery licenses in Canada’s portion of the Beaufort Sea, currently the most active offshore area of Arctic oil and gas exploration in Canada.

Now that Shell has relinquished its huge leases at the mouth of Lancaster Sound, there are currently no oil and gas leases off the eastern shore of Baffin Island.

But across Davis Strait and Baffin Bay, almost the entire area offshore western Greenland has been claimed by global oil and gas companies.

The federal departments of natural resources and Indigenous affairs plan to spend the upcoming year consulting with current Arctic offshore licence-holders to determine what happens next, but it’s possible offshore oil exploration could still continue within those significant discovery licences despite the moratorium.

The eastern Arctic SEA was prompted in part by a resolution passed by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association at their October 2013 annual general meeting.

Concerned about a five-year seismic testing operation off Baffin Island that was then before the National Energy Board, Baffin Inuit feared unchecked oil and gas exploration in their own backyard.

The QIA called on Ottawa to conduct a strategic environmental assessment of hydrocarbon development in their region.

“This would examine all the issues related to development, and establish what conditions have to be in place before oil and gas (development) takes place,” said Bernie MacIsaac, then QIA’s director of lands and resources, in October 2013.

“That’s the guts of what we’re working on. That nothing take place until these issues have been dealt with and examined.”

Ottawa, in partnership with QIA, then held consultation meetings in 10 Baffin communities in February 2014 to gather input from residents on potential offshore oil and gas development.

In May 2014, the Nunavut Marine Council asked Bernard Valcourt, then Aboriginal affairs minister, to postpone any decision on seismic testing off Baffin Island until that strategic environmental assessment was completed.

But Valcourt rejected that request and the National Energy Board went ahead and approved the seismic project—a decision that prompted a string of legal actions that wound up at the Supreme Court in November 2016. A court decision is expected by May 2017.

So what was the outcome of those community consultations held in February 2014? Where does the assessment stand and what happens next? Your guess is as good as ours.

We contacted the QIA and NTI to find out what they know of this assessment. NTI did not respond to our request.

The QIA did respond however.

“Please note that the Strategic Environmental Assessment for Baffin Bay and Davis Strait has NOT been abandoned and work has recently restarted on it,” said a spokesperson from QIA in an email to Nunatsiaq News.

“QIA is part of a working group dealing with the SEA and our role is to ensure proper consultation of our communities and to ensure local knowledge, especially IQ is incorporated into the process.”

When we asked to speak with someone at QIA about the assessment, QIA said, “INAC is the lead and NIRB is in charge of the proposal so you may want to contact them for further information.”

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