Canadian Arctic Oil Spill Cleanup Research Cancelled

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Canadian government plans to perform a controlled oil spill in the High Arctic have been cancelled this year because the scientist spearheading the project is working on the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans planned to dump 1,200 litres of oil in Barrow Strait, Wellington Channel and Lancaster Sound in August to test spill dispersion methods.

The project, called “Improvement of Marine Oil Spill Response Methods for Use in the Arctic,” was proposed by Kenneth Lee, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans in Dartmouth, N.S.

The project had to be called off after Lee joined experts trying to contain the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, said Robert Fudge, director of the federal department’s National Centre for Arctic Aquatic Research Excellence.

“Dr. Lee is just physically not around,” Fudge told CBC News on Tuesday. “He was supposed to be in Resolute Bay last week and [he] would have been in the community, conducting consultations.”

Would test agents for breaking up spills

In an application submitted last month to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, which was screening the project, Lee said chemical and fine mineral dispersants, such as clay, would be tested in the High Arctic.

The chemicals — which Lee described as being “similar to dish-cleaning detergent” — and the fine mineral dispersants would break up spilled oil into small droplets, according to documents Lee filed with the board.

The droplets would then be diluted by natural tides, currents and bacteria to the point where they “have no effect on the health of living organisms.”

Fudge said Lee is using the same kinds of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico that he hopes to test in the North.

“He proposes to do this eventually in broken ice, where there’s very little information on the effectiveness of these techniques in that situation,” Fudge said.

Lee may revive the project once community consultations take place in the High Arctic, Fudge said.

“When he returns he fully plans to engage communities and proceed with a consultation. Based on that, and the feedback from communities, he will consider reapplying in a future year.”

Research frustrates Inuit official

John Amagoalik, an executive policy adviser with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, said he is glad Lee’s project has been cancelled.

Amagoalik said he is frustrated with federal departments proposing controlled oil spills and seismic tests in Lancaster Sound, which he described as one of the richest ecological areas in the world.

“Our priority is to establish a national marine conservation area in Lancaster Sound before any other considerations,” Amagoalik said.

The Geological Survey of Canada, which is part of the federal Natural Resources Department, has applied to the Nunavut Impact Review Board to conduct seismic tests for potential oil and gas resources in Lancaster Sound.

At the same time, the federal government is studying the idea of creating a national marine conservation area in the sound to protect a variety of mammal and bird species there.

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