A federal scientific project to conduct seismic tests for oil and gas in Lancaster Sound has been given the green light by the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

The board has advised Nunavut Environment Minister Daniel Shewchuk to give the project a research licence.

The Geological Survey of Canada is proposing its Eastern Canadian Arctic Seismic Experiment this summer to explore for potential oil and gas resources in Lancaster Sound, Jones Sound and eastern Baffin Island.

In documents released Tuesday, the review board says the seismic testing proposal "may be processed without a review under Part 5 or 6" of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, which empowers territorial and federal authorities to assess project proposals in Nunavut.

Controversial in Arctic communities

The proposed seismic testing has sparked controversy in High Arctic communities, where local officials have opposed the project so far.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association also opposes the seismic test project, as it — along with Parks Canada and the Nunavut government — is conducting a feasibility study to determine whether Lancaster Sound should be designated as a national marine conservation area. Last year, the federal government announced $5 million for the study.

Underwater mining and energy exploration would be banned in Lancaster Sound if it is designated as a conservation area.

Community officials and hunters in Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet and Grise Fiord, Nunavut, have raised concerns about the possible impacts that seismic tests would have on area wildlife.

Protect Lancaster Sound, group urges

As well, Oceans North Canada, a conservation group, has asked the federal government to "clarify that no oil and gas development will take place" in Lancaster Sound, known for its plant and animal species.

The area is a habitat for narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales, as well as for seals, walrus and polar bears. Seabirds flock to Lancaster Sound in the hundreds of thousands.

In a release, Chris Debicki, Oceans North Canada's projects director in Nunavut, said Ottawa must clearly say "there will be no new oil and gas leasing or drilling in the Lancaster Sound region until it is fully protected as a park as the government promised."

While the Nunavut Impact Review Board states that the proposal does not need a detailed review, it included a list of terms and conditions the project must follow — if approved — to minimize the risks to marine wildlife.

Project leader Gordon Oakey is required to conduct adequate public consultations before testing starts, according to the board.

In documents submitted to the review board, Oakey said his project team is working on a community engagement strategy for Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, Resolute Bay, Grise Ford and Clyde River.

As well, the board says any data that the seismic tests uncover must be given to the parties working on the conservation area study.

Corrections

  • Nunavut Environment Minister Daniel Shewchuk does not have to weigh in on a proposed federal seismic testing project in the Arctic, as was previously reported. The decision by the Nunavut Impact Review Board means the project does not have to undergo further review, and a research licence can be granted.
    May 26, 2010 8:55 AM CT