Nunatsiaq Online
EDITORIAL: Around the Arctic July 08, 2014 - 2:39 pm

Valcourt picks the lose-lose option

The federal government has poisoned its relationship with the people of the High Arctic

This map shows the extent of seismic testing around the High Arctic in the 1960s and 1970s, then done with dynamite. (SOURCE: CANADIAN SOCIETY FOR EXPLORATION GEOPHYSICS)
This map shows the extent of seismic testing around the High Arctic in the 1960s and 1970s, then done with dynamite. (SOURCE: CANADIAN SOCIETY FOR EXPLORATION GEOPHYSICS)

When faced with the question of what to do about the prospect of seismic testing for potential oil and gas reserves in Davis Strait and Baffin Bay, Bernard Valcourt, the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, likely had more policy choices available to him than he has yet been willing to admit to.

But in the end, he picked the lose-lose option: a choice that’s a net loser for Canada and a net loser for the Inuit of Nunavut.

Most readers are now likely familiar with a proposal that two related companies from Norway filed with the National Energy Board in January 2011.

The two firms, TGS and Petroleum Geo-Services are teamed up in a joint-venture in which a PGS subsidiary called Multi-Klient Invest will operate a seismic testing vessel for five years across a big slice of ocean territory that sits between the international boundary with Greenland and the line that marks the limit of the Nunavut land claims settlement area.

The names of these companies are likely new to most people in Nunavut.

But they’ve done similar work for years off Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Greenland, where seismic testing is common. Just last month, TGS announced a four-year seismic testing scheme involving about 35,000 kilometres of work off northeast Greenland.

Notwithstanding all that, the idea of seismic testing arouses bitter memories in the eastern Canadian Arctic. Those memories date to the 1960s and 1970s, when Panarctic Oils, a firm owned by a partnership between the federal government and more than 70 companies, blasted the Arctic seas with dynamite, sometimes killing sea mammals and fish.

If you live in communities like Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay and Clyde River, that’s what seismic testing means: dead seals, disrupted marine mammal migration — with high-risk exploratory drilling soon after.

It should surprise no one, then, that seismic testing, the first stage in offshore oil and gas exploration, should generate fierce opposition in the communities of north Baffin and the High Arctic. Three years of work by the National Energy Board have done nothing to persuade most residents of those communities that they have anything to gain from MKI’s seismic program.

Who can blame them? The “Canada Benefits Plan” — which Valcourt had to accept before the NEB could approve the project — is a secret. MKI is allowed to keep it confidential — and the federal government will not release it.

The NEB’s decision to approve the MKI scheme may or may not be legally correct. But it’s clear that neither they nor the federal government have obtained a social licence for it. For the people of North Baffin, it’s all risk and no benefit.

Just last May, the Nunavut Marine Council gave Valcourt an opportunity to step back from this mess and make a magnanimous face-saving gesture, at no cost to his government’s northern development agenda.

The council — comprising the chairs of the Nunavut Impact Review Board, the Nunavut Water Board, the Nunavut Planning Commission and the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board — urged that seismic testing be delayed until after Valcourt’s northern development department completes what bureaucrats call a “strategic environmental assessment.”

That, essentially, is a big study that would weigh the potential costs and benefits of oil and gas development in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait — a study that would likely take some time to complete.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association chimed in with their own timid support for the idea.

Valcourt rejected this modest suggestion. But what’s the hurry? The oil and gas industry has — for many years — shown little interest in eastern Nunavut.

The only sign of potential activity in the entire Canadian Arctic is in the west, where a consortium made up Imperial Oil, ExxonMobil and BP proposes to drill at a deep-water site in the Beaufort Sea north of Tuktoyaktuk

But in the eastern Arctic, there’s nothing. For most of the past decade the federal government has been inviting bids for leases in areas around the islands of the High Arctic — and received no takers.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Oil and gas exploration in the eastern Arctic comes with high costs and high risks. Industry players have likely calculated that right now, it’s just not viable.

This means there isn’t even an economic case for rushing the process in the national interest. Incidentally, Canada has other policy instruments at its disposal, which it has used to maintain an oil and gas exploration moratorium off British Columbia since 1972.

Despite all that, the federal government has — for no good reason — poisoned relations between itself and the communities of the High Arctic. That’s bad for Canada and it’s bad for the Inuit. JB

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(14) Comments:

#1. Posted by earth3rd on July 08, 2014

The Inuit of Nunavut should have the last say whether or not they want it. End of story.

#2. Posted by old dog on July 08, 2014

Would it make a difference if Nunavut had a Member of Parliament who was not in Harper’s Cabinet?

#3. Posted by ... on July 08, 2014

There’s an error in this editorial.

The call for a strategic environmental assessment originated with QIA. They called for the NEB review to be halted until the strategic environmental assessment was complete back in 2013. The Nunavut Marine Council was simply showing support for QIA’s position.

Granted, the letter from QIA in May of 2014 seemed more ‘timid’ than their initial letter on the matter (requesting it be done in ‘stages’ to let seismic surveys proceed sooner rather than later). That said, it was QIA’s demand originally.

#4. Posted by f&*k leona on July 08, 2014

let’s start working with the other parties on this.

#5. Posted by error correction on July 08, 2014

#3, you made error in correcting the perceived error.

The strategic environmental assessment did not originate with QIA, but was proposed by the government several years ago, based on similar studies that had taken place in the Beaufort. There was a community tour of some Baffin communities in January, 2013 to discuss the proposed SEA, which followed a meeting that took place in Iqaluit among numerous parties in 2012, organized by the government, that QIA (among others) participated in.

What happened in 2013 was that QIA requested that NEB put projects on hold until the study, which had been in the discussion and planning stages for two years or so by that point, was completed.

#6. Posted by AJM on July 08, 2014

This story is so above any beyond the truth. I cant believe JB would liken this to using dynamite on marine mammals.

Have you read what seismic testing is? Do you know how it is carried out? Have you read the NEB report on this project?

#7. Posted by joshin' on July 08, 2014

Live I said before, vote for ABC = Anybody But Conservatives in the next Federal Election in Oct. 2015.

Remember this and go boot the Conservative and their Leona and Harper OUT.

#8. Posted by a guy on road to nowhere on July 08, 2014

Word a geologist. I know what seismic testing is, and yes, it has an awful impact on marine mammals.

This is so well known in the ambient that larger exploration companies have official programs of impact mitigation and re-population. 

Read something about BP and the bay of fundy before being so smart about it.

dynamite, airguns, vibroseis… It doesn’t make a difference,  when the shock perceived by mammals is of the same magnitude.

Beyond any truth is that they granted permits for this bull****. Oh wait, right, this is the country where oil sans are clean…

#9. Posted by Tulugak on July 08, 2014

Valcourt, like his boss Harper, ignores recent decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada and ignores the duty imposed on the Crown to consult the Inuit for this type of project that is likely to impact on their way of life, their culture and their identity. Not only must they consult Inuit but under international law, they must obtain their free, prior, informed consent. Where was that consultation and who provided Inuit consent?

#10. Posted by Akilineq on July 08, 2014

It would be interesting to hear what Greenlanders are saying for this same work in their waters.

#11. Posted by BHL on July 09, 2014

#1 - people like you are the reason that we will end up without safe drinking water and kill all our trees and wildlife. Native people are protecting us all!! Too bad more people didn’t see what’s coming and stand up to the greedy government.

#12. Posted by earth3rd on July 09, 2014

Holy smokes do you have it wrong. I’m on your side.

#13. Posted by earth3rd on July 09, 2014


I see that perhaps you misunderstood me. When I say Inuit should have the last say I mean that Inuit make the final decision whether they want it or not. I’m with you on this.

#14. Posted by Northerner on July 10, 2014

to #10, they’ve already finished their seismic testing on their side of baffin bay a few years ago, so that must say something.  Where is my comment about the NLCA and the Feds, on how the Feds can override anything in the NLCA when they wish, by the stroke of the pen. sad, I voted no because we were not getting enough.  I dont’ think the majority of voters knew that back then.

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