Inuit divided over oil drilling off Greenland

One ITK delegate says no Arctic offshore drilling should occur


Emerging political divisions among the Inuit of the circumpolar world over Greenland’s plans to drill for oil in the Davis Strait surfaced June 24 at Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s annual general meeting in Iqaluit.

In her opening remarks to delegates, ITK president Mary Simon said she expects Greenland’s aggressive oil exploration policies to come up later this week at a meeting of the Inuit Circumpolar Council in Nuuk.

“The Greenland home rule government is determined to go ahead with drilling in the Davis Strait,” Simon told delegates, noting criticism of Greenland’s policies.

Greenland wants to develop its offshore oil and gas reserves to reduce dependency on the annual block funding it gets from Denmark.

Scottish company Cairn Energy is set to begin drilling two sites off the west coast of Disko Island this summer after receiving regulatory approval from the home rule government June 15.

The company has said it will use stringent safety practices, including working with a second drill ship that will be able to drill relief wells to stop the flow of oil in the event of a blowout like the one that caused oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico.

Simon said she understands why Greenland wants to develop its offshore industry but said oil extraction also contributes to climate change, which is already being felt in Inuit communities.

“It is a very delicate and political issue,” she said.

Simon said she’s worried about the impact an oil spill off the coast of Greenland would have on the Arctic environment.

She said ITK and the four regional Inuit organizations would present a united front to federal government in calling for tough enforcement of regulations if-or when-oil drilling begins in Canada’s Arctic.

“Oil has no boundaries, it just goes everywhere and destroys everything in its path,” she said.

Makivik delegate Johnny Peters said Inuit shouldn’t accept any offshore drilling in Canada’s Arctic, especially in light of the catastrophic oil spill unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We have to stop oil exploration in the ocean,” he said. “We can explore other areas on land, but not in the sea.”

Simon criticized the federal government for its approach to closing the social and economic gap between Inuit and other Canadians and urged the regional organizations to make tackling Inuit poverty a priority.

She accused the federal government of passing off responsibility for aboriginal social problems to the provincial and territorial governments.

Ottawa’s approach, she said, is “all about process and not about substance.”

The premiers will meet this August in Churchill, Man. to talk about aboriginal social issues, but Simon wants a full First Ministers meeting, which would include the Prime Minister, on aboriginal poverty.

“There’s a lot of very important issues that should be part of the national agenda.”

On the European Union’s ban on the import of seal products, Simon said ITK expects to learn some time in August if it will win an interim suspension of the ban, with a final decision from the European Court of Justice expected early next year.

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