WWF warns of likely fuel spills if mine expansion goes ahead

Baffinland says it’s ‘well equipped’ for potential fuel spill from increased shipping activity

Lou Kamermans, a senior director at Baffinland Iron Mines Corp., fields questions about the company’s proposed expansion during Day 5 of the resumed Nunavut Impact Review Board hearing. (Photo by David Venn)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposed expansion of its Mary River iron mine doesn’t necessarily mean there will be an increased likelihood of fuel spills, says the chairperson of a hunters organization.

Moses Oyukuluk, chairperson of Arctic Bay’s Ikajutit Hunters and Trappers Organization, spoke during the community roundtable of the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s hearing on Friday, following a discussion about the high probability of an oil spill.

“We don’t believe that,” Oyukuluk said.

Oyukuluk took time to thank Baffinland for its help and for offering employment to Inuit but said he wants the company to slow down its expansion proposal and do more research.

“Ease your eagerness to continue on with Phase 2. Just hold back a bit; don’t stop your operation,” he said. “We need to see better plans in place, more research including traditional knowledge.”

Earlier in the hearing that resumed Monday after a six-month break, World Wildlife Fund marine shipping expert Andrew Dumbrille said there is a 93.5 per cent chance of a fuel spill by ship over the life of the Mary River mine, if Baffinland’s expansion proceeds.

WWF got the figure by looking at the probability of different types of fuel spills by different vessels and comparing it to the number of transits Baffinland’s expansion would see.

That number includes fuel spills of all sizes — including small ones — and are most likely to be minor, said Dumbrille.

“The damage that even minor spills can have on the environment is cause for concern,” Dumbrille said in an email to Nunatsiaq News, adding that the spill would consist of heavy fuel oil. It’s a tar-like, inexpensive fuel widely used in shipping. Because of its thickness, it breaks down much more slowly in Arctic waters than other fuels.

The NIRB hearing, underway in Iqaluit, is focused on the company’s plans to build a 110-kilometre railway and double its iron ore shipments to 12 million tonnes a year through the Tallurutiup Imanga conservation area. In-person meetings are scheduled to end Saturday.

Lou Kamermans, a Baffinland senior director, said Dumbrille’s statements were misleading because it alluded to the spill being a “catastrophic” one.

“We’re well equipped to respond to a small spill,” Kamermans said.

The company has three tiers for oil spills: those that can be cleaned with supplies on the ship, others that need equipment from the mine site, and another category where the company needs to hire a firm to clean it, spokesperson Stuart Weinberg wrote in an email.

Transport Canada will oversee Baffinland’s spill responses, Weinberg said, though, there have been no spills to date.

Dumbrille said any spill would consist of heavy fuel oil, which is “more damaging to the marine environment if spilled than any other type of fuel.” It also produces the most black carbon – or soot – emissions.

Kamermans said the emissions are a concern, but that the company has made an agreement that its ships will run on a lighter fuel upon entry of Eclipse Sound.

Ships burning heavy fuel oil can leave soot on nearby snow and ice, but Baffinland only ships ore during summer and fall, when there isn’t much snow on the land and ice is just starting to form, Kamermans said.

Oyukuluk said he wants there to be more conversation about whale stocks, and to find out if shipping is truly the main cause of animals leaving the area. If so, he wants shipping to decrease.

“As to why our whale stocks are depleting — I think the answer is, perhaps, Baffinland should use less ships to transport the iron ore,” he said.

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by What? on

    WWF saying there likely will be fuel spills, should the expansion happen, is fear-mongering, in my opinion. No one, no organization and no company can ever predict every scenario, every possible and counter the what-ifs. For WWF to say that oil spills might happen is similar to someone saying that Martians might land in our communities. Smarten up, WWF.

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  2. Posted by Thomas Aggark on

    compensate all of them. nlca claims that, if not breaking promises. making a mess, youve got all the prove, what a bs territory, all out war on inuit, suicides, loss of jobs, making a mess. non inuit businesses, bs territory, get out of our land never return.

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    • Posted by Aputi on

      Baffinland treats inuit better than agnico, they even have vice president that’s an inuk, we never see that with agnico eagle, they don’t have tailings pond for there mine,

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  3. Posted by Truestory on

    WWF, Baffinland Iron Mines mines ore. Not oil. If an oil spill does happen, it’s the captain of the ship or the ship builders fault. I work as an Apprentice Electrician here at Mary River, Nunavut. The only ships we see are ore customers. And there isn’t a pipe line.

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  4. Posted by Pork Pie on

    In other news, astrophysicists claim that an asteroid is likely to hit earth if it continues on its current trajectory, though they can not say when.

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  5. Posted by pissed off on

    WWF is fearmongering in the worst way.
    Where do they get their so called experts to pull some weird statistics like that ?

    I am disapointed with such an organisation and their tactics.
    They loose credibility in a big way with stuff like that .
    What about sealift resupply to all northern communities ?
    In their book what is the probability of a spill ?
    What should we do shut down all human activities in the world, crawl under a rock and feel guilty for being alive ???

    They should have a real look at their rhetorics.

    Thanks

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