Hearings underway on potential oil and gas work in eastern Nunavut waters

Nunavut Impact Review Board weighing risks, benefits of development in Baffin Bay, Davis Strait

On Monday, March 18, members of the Nunavut Impact Review Board prepare to start their five-day final hearing into gas and oil development in the Baffin Bay and Davis Strait region. The meeting, which is taking place at the Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit, is open to the public (Photo by Jane George)

By Jane George

(Updated March 20, 12:15 p.m.)

Much remains unknown about the risks of oil and gas development in Nunavut’s waters in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, if the first day of this week’s hearings held in Iqaluit by the Nunavut Impact Review Board is any indication of the current state of knowledge.

Most of the background information provided at the meeting on Monday came from work done by Nunami Stantec Inc., a partnership between the regional Inuit development corporations and consulting firm Stantec Inc.

Its representative, Janine Beckett, offered those present at the Frobisher Inn’s Koojesse Room a stripped-down summary of  the big issues, which included at some “hypothetical” development scenarios, potential effects and mitigation efforts.

After Beckett’s presentation, Simeonie Keenainak of Pangnirtung’s hunters and trappers association asked Nunami Stantec three questions—about oil and gas exploration experiences in the Beaufort Sea, possible impact on birds, and spill response plans.

But Nunami Stantec didn’t have the answers.

It’s “out of my depth” said Beckett. On another point: “This isn’t my area of expertise,” she said.

The same was true for another question about whether there is an alternative to using seismic testing, known to affect marine mammals, in order to find areas suitable for test drilling: “I don’t think so,” was her response.

That question was referred to the industry representative at the table, Paul Barnes, Atlantic Canada and Arctic director for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, who said there isn’t.

That later prompted Mark Brooks from the World Wildlife Fund to raise a point of order, saying that it’s unusual to see an industry representative answering questions directed to another presenter.

That complaint didn’t seem to register with the NIRB’s lawyer.

Brooks also challenged Nunami Stantec and CAPP, by saying that alternatives do exist to the use of airguns for seismic exploration.

Nunami Stantec’s Monday presentation to the NIRB also described the uncertain impact of climate change on gas and oil development in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait.

A slide from the consultant showed that by 2080 there could be increases in:

• Air temperature, by nine to 12 C.

• Number of days without frost, from 68 to 131 days.

• Sea water temperature, from 1.5 to 2.5 C.

• Rain and snow, by 40 to 60 per cent.

• Extreme storms.

At the same time, there could be decreases in snow and sea ice cover.

The five-day public hearings will continue this week, with the aim of weighing the risks and benefits of oil and gas development in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait.

The NIRB plans to draw on Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit and science to achieve a “full and fair” basis for recommendations on whether or not to lift the five-year moratorium on oil and gas development for that offshore region, said NIRB Chairperson Elizabeth Copland, who leaves shortly to become Nunavut’s chief coroner.

The hearings are a final step in the $2.5 million process asked for in 2017 by the federal government.

This round calendar, showing the Inuit year, to shows the annual interplay between IQ and the development of oil and gas with animals and people in the community of Qikiqtarjuaq. (Photo by Jane George)

On Monday, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association also introduced its Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit knowledge study, intended to guide recommendations on gas and oil development in that Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, which wants to bring IQ, Inuit priorities and the Inuit point of view into the assessment.

As part of that exercise, the QIA designed round calendars with the communities of Grise Fiord, Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Qikiqtarjuaq and Pangnirtung to show the annual interplay between IQ and the development of oil and gas with animals and people.

On Tuesday, day two of the meeting, which is open to the public, the Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association were to make presentations.

By May 31, the NIRB plans deliver its recommendation on the strategic environmental assessment, or SEA, in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait to Dominic LeBlanc, the federal minister of intergovernmental affairs, northern affairs and internal trade.

This could possibly lead to the lifting of a moratorium now in place on new oil and gas permits. The federal government imposed a moratorium in 2016 on new oil and gas activities in all offshore Canadian Arctic waters that is supposed to be reviewed in 2021.

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