Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavik June 12, 2012 - 8:45 am

More time needed for consultations on seismic project off Nunavut: QIA

"QIA does not believe that one trip will be adequate to address the level of concerns"

JANE GEORGE
Here's a map from the Environmental Impact Statement submitted by RPS Energy which shows where the company wants to conduct a five-year program of seismic testing, starting next month. (FILE IMAGE)
Here's a map from the Environmental Impact Statement submitted by RPS Energy which shows where the company wants to conduct a five-year program of seismic testing, starting next month. (FILE IMAGE)

A year after a proposal to conduct seismic testing in Davis Strait and Baffin Bay stalled, the same proposal has come back to life with a round of consultations planned for this week and next in the Baffin region.

Nexus Coastal Resource Management plans to hold community information sessions on behalf of TGS Nopec Geophysical Company ASA, Petroleum GeoServices and MultiKlient Invest on its NorthEastern Canada 2D Seismic Survey in Pangnirtung on June 14, Qikiqtarjuaq on June 17, Clyde River on June 20, Pond Inlet on June 22 and in Iqaluit June 25. Consultations took place in Kimmirut on June 11.

Last summer, the proposal to start five years of seismic testing in the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay area, outside the Nunavut land claims settlement area, sparked opposition from people in Clyde River and Pond Inlet, the Arctic Fishery Alliance, the Baffin Fisheries Coalition and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which said the program was ill-planned and promoted.

They slammed the quality of consultation and information offered by RPS Energy, an international consultant and management group based in Norway, acting on behalf of the proponents.

They also said they were skeptical about claims that sound waves produced by seismic tests will leave marine life unharmed.

This feedback can be found in letters and comments filed with the National Energy Board, the federal agency that will decide whether to grant project promoters the authorization they need to proceed.

The most recent letter from the QIA’s lands and resources director, Bernie MacIssac, dated May 15, 2012 says the “current consultations strategy” is a step in the right direction but many “important aspects” need fine-tuning.

The QIA said any plan to conduct a traditional knowledge study requires more thorough planning and that one community consultation won’t be enough.

“QIA does not believe that one trip will be adequate to address the level of concerns expressed by the affected communities, not to mention the proposed Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge study,” the QIA said.

The QIA suggested that the project promoters hold additional consultations in November and then come back in Feb. 2013 with a “new project design” and talk more about how they plan to mitigate the program’s impacts.

The consultations planned for this week and next are supposed to provide an opportunity for community members to learn about the project and discuss the project and for the promoters to learn about the community’s thoughts regarding the project, and collect “Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge” from community members, according to information filed on the NEB website.

In addition, the promoters plan to contact local schools and offer to do a presentation on the project and seismic surveys while its representatives are in the communities.

Promoters said they would like to commence the seismic program during the 2012 open water season.

But now they’re looking to start in 2013.

First, a benefits plan, declaration of fitness and a completed environmental assessment will be required before the NEB issues a “Geophysical Operations Authorization.”

Because all the seismic testing will occur outside Canada’s 12-nautical-mile boundary,  it’s the NEB — not the Nunavut Impact Review Board — that will finally decide whether to grant that authorization.

As for the project’s impacts, its 120-page EIS, delivered to the energy board last April, said that if the project doesn’t move ahead, there will still be damage to the environment:  from ice breakers, cargo vessels, cruise ships, and other research vessels, waste materials, sedimentation, fall-out of atmospheric pollutants, and discharge of ballast.

And marine life will still live in a noisy environment full of “cracking and breaking pack ice.”

A “no-go” would set back interest in the area, it says, because geologists will lack the information required to map the sub-surface and assess its oil and gas potential.

That will affect the future of more subsurface exploration and drilling programs, resulting “in the removal of future potential business, royalty, and tax revenue sources and the data would not exist for future knowledge and research,” the EIS said.

The promoters planned last year to send out the MV Sanco Spirit, a private research vessel, to tow a number of air guns around and send sound waves down to depths of six to 10 metres below the sea surface toward the seabed.

Receivers spaced out along “streamers,” six to 10 kilometres in length, towed behind the ship, would then record the sounds that bounced back.

By the kind of echoes returned in this process, geologists could determine what’s under the seafloor.

Last year’s survey was supposed to wrap up in November, depending on the location, weather conditions, and vessel availability, the EIS said.

All interaction with marine mammals of any designation would be kept to a minimum, it said, and “it is unlikely that any individual will be measurably impacted by the program.”

The survey would pass 28 kilometres outside the Niginganiq National Wildlife Area, near Clyde River.

While acknowledging “the low hearing sensitivity of baleen whales,” the EIS said the additional noise generated as a result of the present proposed seismic survey activities would be minimal: they could move away but would be “likely” to return after several hours.

Marine mammal watchers would ensure there are no whales or seals within 500 metres from the sound source, it said.

As for fish, there could be some “mortality of eggs or larvae.” Although the catch rate “can be affected,” the seismic testing wouldn’t “affect any critical or unique spawning grounds.”

Seabirds would be likely to scatter, so the plan would involve ramping up the sound pulses gradually.

Fortunately, there are no lobsters off the Baffin Island. The EIS said adult American lobsters could experience physiological effects from intense seismic sound pressure.

“American lobsters are not found in the proposed seismic study area and consequently will not be potentially impacted by seismic operations.”

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