Seismic testing off Clyde River cancelled for 2015

Clyde River, Nunavut, is declaring victory after an energy company cancelled this summer's plans for offshore seismic testing.

Consortium of energy companies made announcement to community this week

Jerry Natanine, mayor of Clyde River, Nunavut, heads into a Federal Appeals Court hearing in Toronto on seismic testing in April. The consortium of companies that had planned to look for oil and gas in the waters off Baffin Island has cancelled its plans for the summer. (Robert Parker)

An energy consortium of three companies has cancelled its plans to conduct seismic testing off of Baffin Island this summer.

The hamlet of Clyde River, Nunavut has been fighting to get a court injunction to stop the seismic testing. Clyde River's mayor Jerry Natanine says he's surprised by the companies' decision to postpone the project.

"I wasn't expecting it at all," he said.

"I was not expecting that they would agree to our request that they do not do the seismic cannon blasting this year until the court has ruled on the case, and it was wonderful news that they agreed to it."

The National Energy Board says it was informed this week that the Norwegian-based consortium won't go ahead with its seismic testing project in 2015. It's the second postponement since the consortium was granted a five-year licence from the NEB last year.

"They indicated that while they were waiting for the decision to come from the federal court on the judicial review, they wanted to have more certainty around the timing of their project," said Tara O'Donovan, a spokesperson for the NEB. 

"And so they decided to delay the start of season until next year so that they could wait for a decision on the court [case.]"

The consortium of three companies — TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company ASA, Petroleum GeoServices and MultiKlient Invest AS — plans to do seismic tests in the Davis Strait, up and down the entire length of Baffin Island. The testing uses loud, high-intensity sounds to help map the sea floor and the geology underneath.

The program is strongly opposed by the people of Clyde River, which argued before the board that the testing would disturb or harm seals, whales, walrus and other marine mammals locals depend on for food.

The hamlet was joined in its opposition by all the communities on Baffin Island, regional and territorial Inuit groups and the Nunavut Marine Council, which represents Nunavut's wildlife management bodies.

A wide spectrum of non-governmental groups and individuals also supported Clyde River, including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and Amnesty International.

In a statement released Wednesday, Greenpeace's Arctic Campaigner Farrah Khan said the decision to postpone was "good news for human rights."

"What this decision tells us is that people power does work; that together we are stronger than Big Oil, and that each one of us has a voice and a way to stand up and be heard," the statement said.

"It is unlikely that the industry would have taken this decision if not for the strong and vocal opposition from Inuit, and the incredible support they received from around the world."

Clyde River argued in front of the Federal Court of Appeal last month for an injunction that would prevent the consortium from going ahead with seismic testing until a federal environmental assessment makes recommendations on which areas should remain closed to development.

The court's decision is expected soon.

Nader Hasan, the lawyer representing the hamlet of Clyde River in its court case, says the decision affects Clyde River's case for an injunction "very little, and in another way it affects it a lot." 

"Regardless of their reasoning, I think it's a sensible decision," he said. 

"I think it's quite respectful of the court's process to at a minimum wait for the court of appeal to issue its decision before doing anything to disturb the status quo on the ground.

"The battle is far from over but this is certainly a welcome development, and it gives people of Clyde River the opportunity to focus for a little while at least on things that they would ordinarily be doing in the summer, rather than be preoccupied with going into court in the very near future to ask for an emergency injunction."

Natanine said he hopes the consortium's decision means it might be starting to see things his community's way.

​"It leads me to think that the company is not just wanting to do what it wants to do and forget about us."

With files from The Canadian Press


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