Arctic Bay opposes seismic testing in Lancaster Sound

“What happens if this survey determines that there is lots of gas and oil?”


People living in communities around Lancaster Sound are not impressed with what they see as federal double-speak on geological testing in their area.

“What happens if this survey determines that there is lots of gas and oil?” asked mayor Niore Iqalukjuak. “Does the federal government then scrap the plan to have a park in Lancaster Sound?”

At a community consultation meeting in Arctic Bay, federal government geologists with the Canada-Nunavut geosciences office told residents that their seismic testing this summer isn’t about bringing petrochemical companies to a region that many local Inuit want to keep free of industrial development.

They also presented a similar case to the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and local reporters at a meeting in Iqaluit June 2.

“We’re doing basic, regional-scale geosciences research,” said chief geologist Donald James in Iqaluit. “We’re not advocating for oil and gas exploration, we’re not doing oil and gas exploration, we’re not looking for oil and gas.”

“You’re preparing for it,” responded QIA special advisor John Amagoalik.

“We’re also preparing for people to have the best information possible to make the best possible decisions about how the offshore is to be used,” James replied.

The Geo-Mapping for Energy and Minerals (GEM) Initiative is a wider, five-year project worth $100 million, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in 2008.

GEM-related research has already taken place on Southampton Island, central and western Nunavut, the Cumberland Peninsula and the former Nanisivik mine site.

“It’s our intent that it’s going to help governments and communities, people and resource companies to make better decisions with respect to land use, as well as making better decisions with respect to exploration and searching for minerals and energy,” James said.

The GEM project has had a rocky history in the Baffin region.

In the summer of 2009, Grise Fiord received 200 drums of aviation fuel to be used in the project, before anyone told them what it would be used for.

As a result of such miscommunication, the Nunavut Impact Review Board ordered the geosciences group to carry out “more meaningful” consultations as a condition of approval.

So the scientists did community consultations in Grise Fiord, Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet and also visited Clyde River and Resolute.

Part of GEM includes seismic testing in Baffin Bay this summer, including a section of Lancaster Sound that is under consideration for becoming a marine conservation area – the marine equivalent of a national park.

Amagoalik accused the group of of overruling the prime minister, who announced the feasibility study into the conservation area earlier this year.

“If the Inuit organizations, the Inuit in the communities and the prime minister say ‘Stay out of this,’ will you stay out of this?” he demanded.

“Of course, from that level,” answered James. “That’s who we work for.”

James pointed out that the marine conservation area does not exist yet, and that the GEM data collected will likely be factored into any feasibility study concerning the region.

James and geophysicist Thomas Brent described GEM as basic geology, but in a region like Baffin Bay, which is known to hold oil and gas deposits, any basic geological studies will inevitably gather more information about them.

“It’s all about collecting new data, integrating the data into new models so we can describe the formation of the geology, the geological history, the regional framework, how the earth is constructed, and what mineral potential these areas might have,” said James.

“All of this data is going to be collected into one data set that’s free, that is web-accessible and disseminated to all.”

Most of the previous geo-mapping of Baffin Bay is dated, using now-obsolete technology, James explained.

Where old maps penetrate to three kilometers below the sea floor at best, the more sensitive modern hardware can accurately map the earth’s crust 40 km down.

Brent said that the new seismic survey technology uses an air-compression chamber to create a specific, focused noise.

That noise is quieter than the explosive blasting used for seismic testing in the 1960s and ‘70s, but more accurate thanks to improvement in microphone technology.

In response to concerns over marine wildlife and the noise, Brent said the technology has developed with concerns of wildlife in mind. It has been successfully used in the St. Lawrence River, which has a population of belugas.

Amagoalik argued that the St. Lawrence is not Lancaster Sound, and the belugas there are probably used to a lot of shipping noise.

QIA’s environment and regulatory advisor, Nigel Qaumariaq, said he doubts that the noise-making technology would be impact-free.

“Within their scientific literature review, even among the scientific review they acknowledge there’s very little scientific data about the mitigation measures,” he said.

At the Arctic Bay meeting, residents expressed concern that the noise of the testing would affect the marine mammals they depend on for food.

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