Inuit supporting Nunavut marine park applaud Shell’s oil-lease donation

But Greenpeace Canada says the law, not charity, forced Shell’s hand


Lancaster Sound, or Tallurutiup Tariunga as it is called in Inuktitut, is home to thousands of species including seals, polar bears, walrus, beluga whales, killer whales and narwhals. Thousands of marine mammals migrate through the area every year. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Lancaster Sound, or Tallurutiup Tariunga as it is called in Inuktitut, is home to thousands of species including seals, polar bears, walrus, beluga whales, killer whales and narwhals. Thousands of marine mammals migrate through the area every year. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Following Shell Canada’s announcement to voluntarily surrender its rights to a swath of exploratory oil-gas permits near Lancaster Sound June 8, Nunavummiut were quick to applaud the gesture which clears the way for an expanded national marine conservation park in one of the Arctic’s most precious areas for marine wildlife.

“I’m so proud, so happy. It’s a good news story,” said Qikiqtani Inuit Association member-at-large Olayuk Akesuk, who’s in charge of the Lancaster Sound NMCA file at Baffin’s land claim organization.

“An important part of Inuit culture is living off animals that are migrating through there, so its important that we work together, support the Inuit as an organization to ensure that hunting areas are protected for the future.”

The permits were donated to the Nature Conservancy of Canada who officially turned them over to the Government of Canada at a joint news conference in Ottawa June 8 between Shell Canada, the NCC and federal ministers as part of World Oceans Day.

“We’ve been pleased to help with facilitating this and move it to a point where the conversation can be an open one about what the boundaries can be, amongst those that live in the area and the governments involved,” NCC President and CEO John Lounds told Nunatsiaq News shortly after the news conference in Ottawa.

“I’m hopeful that it’s really going to result in a conservation achievement of global significance, because Lancaster Sound deserves it.”

Clyde River’s Jerry Natanine, whose fight against seismic testing in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait will go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in November, said Shell did the right thing, especially since global power generation is evolving toward renewable energy.

“I was really surprised. I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” Natanine said from Clyde River.

“I thought there’s going to be a long court battle and in the end, we’re going to see that Shell didn’t have anything but the announcement came and I thought, wow, is this for real?”

While Natanine supports protecting the Arctic for wildlife, and for the people who live and hunt there, he said he sympathized with northerners who see resource extraction as a means to get jobs in a place where economic development is scarce.

“The fight is always there but protection for our way of life, that’s the key to what I’m doing,” Natanine said.

Shell’s donation of the permits comes mere months after Greenpeace Canada released documents, obtained through access to information, that allege the Lancaster Sound permits, granted to Shell in 1971, had actually expired decades ago.

Shortly after that news broke, the World Wildlife Fund, with help from Ecojustice, filed a lawsuit against Shell questioning the validity of the permits.

Shell hadn’t been able to conduct seismic testing for seabed hydrocarbons there anyway because the QIA had gotten an injunction against such activity in 2010.

So while Shell sat on those permits, Ottawa proposed a shrunken boundary for the conservation area which excluded the oil-gas leases. That appeared to be the only solution to the stalemate.

Following the June 8 news conference in Ottawa, Greenpeace Canada Arctic liaison Alex Speers-Roesch told Nunatsiaq News that Shell’s donation shouldn’t be considered an act of strict benevolence.

“It’s a bit fresh of Shell to claim it’s relinquishing them voluntarily to support Arctic protection,” Speers-Roesch wrote, in an email.

“This is their attempt to score some brownie points and exit from the scene gracefully rather than having the permits pried from their hands by force, which is what would have happened to them otherwise.”

But according to the NCC, who brokered the deal between Shell and Parks Canada, discussions for Shell to donate the permits began before Greenpeace released its research in March.

“We actually began the conversation in the winter,” said Lounds, on the negotiations, adding that they occurred “in parallel” with the developing information released by Greenpeace.

Federal ministers on hand for the announcement in Ottawa lauded Shell’s decision to surrender the permits, saying they can now begin in earnest to establish an expanded Lancaster Sound marine conservation area.

“Today on behalf of all Canadians, we express our gratitude to Shell Canada for their generous contribution toward meeting Canada’s ambitious marine protection goals,” said Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, in a new release.

“The proposed Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area is an extraordinary demonstration of a serious commitment to ecologically sustainable development in the North, and to continued partnerships with Indigenous peoples: two critical elements that will help protect areas of ecological importance for generations to come.”

The new Liberal government proposed $123.7 million over the next five years to develop marine conservation in Canada.

“Our Government is committed to putting forward a comprehensive plan to reach our international targets for protecting our marine and coastal areas for current and future generations,” said newly appointed fisheries minister, Dominic Leblanc, in a news release.

Leblanc replaced Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo who recently resigned as minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard so he could seek help for addictions.

“Innovative agreements like the one announced today to protect Lancaster Sound in Canada’s North show the incredible progress we can make by working collaboratively,” Leblanc said.

With files from Lisa Gregoire

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