Thousands of barrels of oil ooze naturally into Nunavut waters
But Nunavut’s reserves unlikely to be developed soon
Thousands of barrels of thick, black, toxic crude oil are spewing into Nunavut’s waters today.
Satellite radar imagery has detected a number of oil slicks off northeastern Baffin Island — and some have even been photographed by scientists.
The largest slicks cover more than 250 square kilometres, with at least 50,000 barrels of oil dancing on the surface of the water.
That’s what Dr. Gordon Oakey, a marine geophysicist for the Geological Survey of Canada, said Oct. 17 at the Nunavut Petroleum Workshop in Iqaluit.
But how does the oil get there?
Oakey presented a slide that explains it all — it’s nature.
That slide showed a crack in the ocean floor at Scott Inlet, about 130 km north of Clyde River.
The slide showed black oil bubbling around an orange starfish lying at the bottom of the ocean floor — making its own way to the surface naturally, Oakley said.
“What I’d like to point out is the scale here,” Oakey said. “Some of these slicks [from this oil] are about 40 or 50 km around, and when you consider the thickness of an oil film, each one of these slicks represents 25,000 to 75,000 barrels of oil sitting on the sea surface at any one time.”
Geologists don’t know whether this is due to a constant seep of oil from the sea-floor, or from once-in-a-while seismic activity that pushes oil up from inside the earth’s crust beneath the seafloor and into the ocean.
Oil slicks were first recorded on the sea surface offshore from Scott Inlet in 1976 by a scientific team from the GSC.
Then, a Pisces IV submersible was used in 1981 and 1985 to look at the sea floor and collect targeted samples.
This work confirmed that oil and gas were indeed seeping from several locations, says a GSC document on the oil slicks.
Extensive surface slicks were mapped and observed in several locations off Scott Inlet and Buchan Gulf.
These naturally occurring oil spills could help people understand what might happen if a spill took place during offshore oil or gas drilling.
But Oakey’s presentation, and many others at the petroleum workshop, also tells a tale of great significance — that Nunavut is sitting on top of a rich trove of oil, waiting to be extracted.
Presentations during the workshop, called a “Vision for Oil and Gas Development in Nunavut,” also included Genevieve Carr, a senior advisor with Northern Petroleum and Mineral Resources at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, who said “one quarter of Canada’s discovered resources of conventional petroleum are in the North and remain undeveloped, as well as one third of the country’s estimated potential.”
But these Nunavut-based resources aren’t likely to be developed any time soon, despite a recent flurry of exploration on the Greenland side of Baffin Bay.
No firms have done any exploration work in Nunavut waters since 1985, for a long list of reasons, including the complex regulatory system, high costs, and little interest on the part of the federal government.
There’s interest in finding out more about what’s going on in and around Scott Inlet.
In 2011, a 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.
But now Nexus Coastal Resource Management, which wants to start its NorthEastern Canada 2D Seismic Survey next summer, held more community information sessions on its project this past week in Qikiqtarjuaq and Kimmirut.
And, there’s another roadblock: at the same time, negotiations over transfer of natural resource ownership and authority, or devolution, are still continuing, said Eric Prosh of the Nunavut Department of Economic Development.
The petroleum workshop comes to a close Oct. 18 with a special by-invitation-only session on environmental assessment, hosted by the federal government.
with files from Jane George