North

Lack of intervener funding for Beaufort oil discussions frustrates hunters

The Inuvialuit Game Council says it fears the people most affected by oil and gas exploration in the Beaufort Sea will be silenced because no participatory funding is available for hunters and other experts to participate in upcoming reviews.

Intervener funding was provided in case of Inuvik-Tuk highway project, NEB says it has not made decision

Shell Oil's Frontier Discoverer drilling rig shown at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in 2007. The Inuvialuit Game Council is raising concerns about the lack of intervener funding for Imperial Oil's plans to drill in the Beaufort. (Shell Exploration & Production/Associated Press)

The Inuvialuit Game Council says it fears the people most affected by oil and gas exploration in the Beaufort Sea will be silenced because no participatory funding is available for hunters and other experts to participate in upcoming reviews. 

"Yes, it is very important to us," says Frank Pokiak, chair of the Inuvialuit Game Council. "We are the people that live up here and we would have a chance to bring our point of views out." 

The Environmental Impact Review Board, the Inuvialuit land claim organization in charge of conducting two environmental reviews into Imperial Oil's plans to drill in the Beaufort Sea, says it hasn't received any participant funding from the federal government.

Interveners in the board's last review into the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway received funding.

The National Energy Board is also conducting a separate technical review into whether Imperial Oil's alternative for a same season relief well meets or exceeds its guidelines for capping a blowout in the same drilling season.

Those hearings are expected to be held in Inuvik in late 2015 or early 2016, but in a statement, the board says that it has not made a decision on whether it will be providing any funding.

Environmental groups like Mining Watch say this is another example of how the Harper government has weakened the environmental screening process.

"Offshore exploratory drilling is no longer covered under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act," says Jamie Kneen, a spokesperson with Mining Watch.

Environmentalists, like Kneen, say the Harper government changed the act so less groups received participatory funding in the hopes that fewer groups attended reviews.

This, Kneen says, was done in the hopes that environmental reviews would be completed faster, but he says the reverse is true. According to Kneen, major resource development projects are approved quicker when government and industry consult as many groups as possible.

"In the absence of that, you start running into all kinds of problems," he says, "from petitions to actual road blocks; where people say: 'we don't trust you, and we are not going to let it happen.'"

Kneen says the reason many resource projects don't make it past the review stage isn't there are too many environmentalists, but because of the "volatile" economic climate.

"A company may put something forward and say within a few months or a year that that actually isn't going to work; especially in the extractive industries," Kneen says.

Despite the absence of funding, the Inuvialuit Game Council says it will continue to lobby the federal government and write letters. 

"We're going to try to get funding," says Pokiak. "Because our people are going to be the most affected if anything ever happens."

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