Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic April 11, 2016 - 10:00 am

Shell’s oil permits near Lancaster Sound still valid, INAC says

"The rights associated with Shell’s permits in Lancaster Sound remain valid"

STEVE DUCHARME
The dark blue area on this map shows the proposed boundaries for a national marine protected area at Lancaster Sound. The cross-hatched squares on this map show where Shell holds its disputed oil and gas leases. (PHOTO COURTESY OCEANS NORTH)
The dark blue area on this map shows the proposed boundaries for a national marine protected area at Lancaster Sound. The cross-hatched squares on this map show where Shell holds its disputed oil and gas leases. (PHOTO COURTESY OCEANS NORTH)

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada is standing behind the validity of oil and gas exploration permits in Lancaster Sound issued to Shell Canada in 1971, despite recently distributed documents obtained by Greenpeace suggesting those permits expired decades ago.

“Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada has completed its review of the history of this permit and concludes that the rights associated with Shell’s permits in Lancaster Sound remain valid,” the department wrote to Nunatsiaq News April 8.

The permits have posed a major roadblock to organizations like the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Parks Canada in forming a national marine conservation area around Lancaster Sound, including the area containing the oil permits granted to Shell Canada.

The former Conservative government proposed a border for the marine protected area in 2010 that excluded the zones where Shell holds permits.

Shell has never exercised its rights to the area, but the company told the QIA and Parks Canada in 2014 they would consider relinquishing them, provided they be allowed to conduct seismic testing in the region beforehand.

That poses challenges because of a de facto moratorium on the practice in the Nunavut Land Claims Area, which was won by the QIA in a court injunction in 2010.

Greenpeace, who obtained the permit documentation through a freedom of information request, says those permits haven’t been renewed since 1978.

The organization is saying the latest statements by INAC are inadequate and disappointing.

“The public deserves a more legitimate reason for thinking Shell’s permits are valid than simply that the government believes they are. The government must either provide some positive evidence to show the permits were properly maintained and renewed, or acknowledge the permits were allowed to expire,” Greenpeace Canada’s arctic organizer, Alex Speers-Roesch, told Nunatsiaq News.

The INAC statement goes on to say it will continue to work towards ecologically sustainable development in the North, and that science and conservation goals will guide any potential oil and gas exploration in the area.

The QIA confirmed in March that the organization is looking forward to communicating with Greenpeace about their research.

“[Nunavummiut] need to have that [NMCA], not only up there but the whole territory depends on animals that migrate through that area,” QIA board member Olayuk Akesuk said March 29.

According to the unearthed documents released to the media by Greenpeace, there has been no formal renewal of the Shell permits since 1978.

“If there was no such application, then the permits should simply have expired in accordance with their terms somewhere around August 1979,” said policy expert and University of Calgary professor Nigel Bankes, in a report commissioned by the environmental organization Oceans North.

Bankes says the onus is on the Government of Canada to prove on paper the files have been updated since that time.

“There was and is no statutory requirement under the Canada Oil and Gas Regulations that permits must be stamped for renewal purposes,” Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada director Michel Chenier wrote in an email to Parvati lawyer Erin Ryder March 16, 2016, obtained by Nunatsiaq News.

In his report, Bankes says under Canadian law there must be a paper trail for these oil permits to remain on the books.

“Registration of the permits in the department is not conclusive of anything,” he wrote.

In light of the new statements, Greenpeace is maintaining its call to the current Trudeau administration in Ottawa to take a closer look at the permits.

“There is still time for the Trudeau government to remedy this situation by standing up for strong protection of an important area of the Arctic and embracing its own vision of an improved relationship with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples,” Speers-Roesch said.

“The Trudeau government has commendably allocated millions for the protection of Lancaster Sound in the recent federal budget. Inuit have expressed that they want this area protected, not opened up for drilling by Shell, a company whose record of accidents and mishaps in Alaska and beyond shows it cannot be trusted to operate safely in the Arctic.”

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