NEB says yes to seismic testing off eastern Nunavut
Despite fierce community opposition, five-year seismic program will go ahead
The National Energy Board has approved a five-year seismic testing scheme that a group of related Norwegian companies proposes for the waters of Baffin Bay and Davis Strait off eastern Nunavut, subject to 15 terms and conditions, an NEB press release announced June 26.
In its decision, the NEB said the proponents made “sufficient efforts” to consult Inuit communities and that any environmental damage can be mitigated.
The group of companies, operating under the name “Multi-Klient Invest,” or “MKI,” plans to cover a huge swath of ocean territory that stretches northwards from the southern tip of Baffin Island around the 61st parallel to an area about 180 km east of Lancaster Sound.
The proposal affects deep-water marine territory and sea life outside the boundary of the Nunavut settlement area, which extends 12 nautical miles from land, to the international boundary with Greenland.
The company will use a ship travelling in straight lines, towing an air gun array that blasts the sea with timed explosions, allowing them to map what lies beneath the seabed by measuring vibrations caused by the air gun array..
To minimize damage to marine mammals, such as bowhead whales, narwhal, belugas, killer whales, polar bears, walrus, porpoise and seals, the NEB says Multi-Klient Invest should shut down the air gun array if they come within 500 metres of any marine mammal.
On each seismic run, the company must used four marine mammal observers, two of whom will be Inuit.
They must also use community liason officers in each affected community to inform them of the ship’s position.
The NEB also orders the company to inform fishing companies of their presence each day and says MKI must pay compensation if they damage fishing gear.
The seismic plan has sparked fierce opposition from Inuit living in communities like Clyde River, Pond Inlet, Qikiqtarjuaq and Arctic Bay.
Many of them said, in public hearings and other venues, that they do not believe MKI is capable of mitigating damage to marine mammals.
They also said seismic testing paves the say for oil and gas drilling, which they also oppose.
But the NEB said they took the views of Inuit into account, but they also say MKI is capable of limiting any environment damage that seismic testing may cause.
“The NEB is of the view that with the implementation of MKI’s commitments, environmental protection procedures and mitigation measures, and compliance with the Board’s regulatory requirements and conditions included in this EA Report, the Project is not likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects,” the NEB said in its environmental assessment report.
Earlier this month, AAND minister Bernard Valcourt said he is “satisfied” with a benefits plan that MKI provided to the NEB.
His approval of a benefits plan is a pre-condition that MKI had to meet before the NEB was able to decide in favour of the project.
Valcourt also said earlier this month that he rejects a call from the Nunavut Marine Council to delay seismic testing until after AAND completes a strategic environmental assessment of Baffin Bay and Davis Strait.