Speakers call for more Inuit involvement at NEB discussion on Arctic drilling
"This is one area where they could apply some of the most stringent standards in the Arctic"
Arctic offshore oil drilling drew more than 200 people, representing communities, environmental groups, Inuit organizations and major oil companies to Inuvik last week for five days of debate and discussion on the issue.
Called a “roundtable” by its organizer, the National Energy Board of Canada, the event overflowed several tables set up in the gym at Samuel Hearne High School.
But, if it was too large to create an intimate discussion, it wasn’t a hearing either, as National Energy Board chairman Gaétan Caron said Sept. 12 in his opening remarks.
“No decisions about future offshore wells will be made here or in the board’s public report on the Arctic review, which we still plan to release before the end of 2011,” he said.
That review of Canada’s regulations on offshore drilling in the Arctic started in May 2010, within days of the Deepwater Horizon blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico, where 11 people died on the drilling platform and oil flowed out of control for months.
“We must implement and never forget those hard lessons,” Caron said.
That goal was driven home during NEB public meetings held across the Arctic, including Iqaluit and Clyde River, earlier this year, he said.
“We came out of these meetings with a more personal sense of accountability for safety and environmental protection in Arctic offshore drilling,” Caron said.
For Duane Smith, president of Canada’s Inuit Circumpolar Council, the Inuvik roundtable opened up more questions about what should be regulated by government and what should be left to industry to adopt as “best practices.”
In fact, he’d like to see a second NEB roundtable scheduled so participants can hear what conditions the agency plans to place on drilling and exploration in the Canadian Arctic.
That’s because representatives from oil companies like Chevron, Imperial Oil and Conoco sometimes didn’t agree on how to handle a spill or blow-out in the Arctic, Smith said.
“We need to develop a consistent approach which is more of a requirement [from government] than an expectation,” he said in an interview from Iceland, where he is attending an Arctic Council meeting this week
To that end, Smith suggests Canada develop a tough set of requirements as a result of its Arctic review.
“Canada wants to demonstrate itself as a leader in managing Arctic issues and this is one area where they could apply some of the most stringent, if not the most stringent standards, in the Arctic to deal with these things, while saying ‘we’re not against development but we want to do everything possible to minimize any possible negative effects.’”
Smith would also like to see industry become equipped to deal with emergencies.
“Wherever the infrastructure to react is, if it’s in Sarnia, Scotland, or Norway that’s just not quick enough for us and it needs to be strategically located throughout the Arctic if there’s going to be that type of activity taking place,” Smith said.
During comments to the roundtable, Rod Maier of Chevron said industry has come a long way since the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, calling it “an unprecedented call to action for really everybody involved in the offshore drilling.”
“Industry has made significant efforts in terms of upping the game and ensuring such an incident never occurs again,” he said, and working on developing “a global mobile toolbox capping system” that could be deployed anywhere around the world to deal with a blow-out.
Above and beyond what the oil companies can or can’t do, Nunavut has a lack of infrastructure and emergency response capabiliy to deal with even minor emergencies, said Keith Morrison, a geologist with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the fire chief in Cambridge Bay.
Discussions and presentations during the roundtable, documented in daily transcripts posted on the NEB website, also touched on Inuit involvement in offshore drilling.
“You know, we don’t want you to come to our meetings anymore with fruit and vegetables and, you know, Chinese food and stuff like that. We want you to come to the table with opportunity,” Ethel-Jean Gruben from the Inuvik Community Corporation said to the oil representatives at the roundtable.
Gruben wasn’t alone in calling for more Inuit benefits from oil and gas development.
“Don’t ignore us, because we’re the first people that you have to talk to,” said John Amagoalik, policy adviser to the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, who also said the development of Nunavut’s natural resources “cannot occur as it unfolded in the 1960s.”
“It must be done with proper measures in place, and very broadly, there should be an agreement between Inuit and Canada on how exploration and development of oil and gas will be done. I know that’s a tall order, but we have to start somewhere,” he said. “I hope that governments and resource companies will come to our communities in a different way.”