Valcourt rejects Nunavut Marine Council’s go-slow advice on Baffin seismic tests
AAND minister likes seismic firm’s Canada Benefits Plan
Bernard Valcourt, the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, has rejected a call from the Nunavut Marine Council to put seismic testing in Baffin Bay on hold until after his department completes a strategic environmental assessment of the area.
“I see neither the need nor the benefit to put seismic exploration on hold while strategic environmental assessment work is under way,” Valcourt wrote in a June 10 letter to the presidents of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, who support the marine council’s position.
Valcourt also said he believes that any seismic testing work, if it’s approved by the National Energy Board, would provide AAND with valuable information for use in its strategic environmental assessment.
Since May 2011, the National Energy Board has been doing its own environmental assessment of a proposal made by a group of related Norwegian companies — TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company, Multi Klient Invest and Petroleum GeoServices — to do extensive offshore seismic work off the east coast of Baffin Island, past the 12-mile limit that marks the boundary of the Nunavut land claims settlement area.
They would do this work using a ship equipped with an air gun device that sends loud sound waves through the water to help produce digital maps showing what lies beneath the seabed.
The plan sparked fierce opposition in many Baffin communities and at least seven communities don’t want the project.
But Valcourt said he’s happy with a required Canada Benefits Plan the seismic testing group submitted to AAND for approval.
“I am satisfied from my review of the Canada Benefits Plan that opportunities have been created for Canadians, including local Inuit,” Valcourt said.
Last May, the marine council asked the National Energy Board to postpone any decisions on seismic testing or oil and gas exploration in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait until after AAND completes its strategic environmental assessment.
Federal officials began work on that assessment this past February, with a series of consultation meetings in 10 Baffin communities.
In its letter to the NEB this past May, the marine council said many communities believe the seismic project could damage marine mammals and that it represents a serious threat to harvesting and the traditional Inuit way of life.
The NEB responded by saying their environmental assessment will take community concerns into account and that the company must prove it’s able to mitigate any environmental damage.
And the NEB also said they won’t authorize the project until after the company creates a benefits plan — which Valcourt appears to have already approved.
TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company and its sister companies have already done extensive work off the shores of Atlantic Canada, south of Nunavut.
This year, they’re planning to do 30,000 km of seismic testing off the coast of eastern Canada, in areas that include the Labrador Sea and southeast Grand Banks.
The company’s core business is to gather seismic data for sale to oil and gas firms.