Concerns about the potential environmental impacts of drilling in the deep waters of the Beaufort Sea, approximately 125 kilometres off the coast of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., were voiced at a public meeting last night in the community.

The meeting, held by the Inuvialuit Settlement Region's Environmental Impact Review Board, was meant to brief people on the multi-stage process the board will go through in reviewing plans to drill at least one exploratory oil well in the ocean by 2020 by Imperial Oil and BP.

The latter company was responsible for 2010's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Public meeting in Tuktoyaktyuk about Beaufort Sea drilling plans

Wednesday's night meeting drew between 30 and 40 people. (David Thurton/CBC )

"The ocean is so precious," said James Pokiak at the meeting. "It really bothers me when I see tragedies happen concerning industry. They could have the best plan in place. But there is always something that happens no matter how good that plan is."

"If there's a blowout, we are going to lose everything," echoed Elsie Nuttal.

No funding for participants

The board's environmental impact review has not begun yet. Before it can, Imperial Oil and BP must submit their plan for how they would respond to an oil spill, including a description of the worst case scenario.

The review board will use that information — which is expected to be filed by the companies in the third quarter of this year — to determine the potential liability the companies would face in the event of a spill.  

Then the environmental impact review will begin.

But the board says it's concerned that the federal government will not provide funding for groups to attend public hearings about the Arctic drilling plans in Inuvik.

"It's a frustration for us right now, to be honest," says Jon Pierce, the board's chair. "I think all of the reviews in the North have had participant funding and then, out of the blue last year, we were told there isn't any."

The board says the Inuvialuit Game Council is asking the federal government to fund participants, and that the government has been funding intervenors for the Kiggavik uranium mine review in Nunavut.

After the board conducts its review of Imperial Oil and BP's plans, the National Energy Board will need to grant the companies final approvals before they can drill.

Elsie Nuttal

'If there's a blowout, we are going to lose everything,' said Elsie Nuttal April 15. (David Thurton/CBC)