A ship towing an array of air cannon spread out in a line behind it.
Photo Credit: via climateviewer

Update: Seismic oil and gas exploration in Arctic waters postponed again

It has been controversial since it was first proposed by a consortium of oil and gas companies in 2011.  The consortium wants to conduct seismic exploration off the coast of Baffin Island but have faced strong opposition to the plan. Although federal agencies have given approval, opposition groups have taken the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The consortium recently announced the exploration will be postponed again this summer during the ice free season.

Jerry Natanine is the former mayor of Clyde River, Nunavut, and a driving force in the campaign against seismic exploration.

Jerry Natanine, Clyde River’s former mayor, stands outside the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa in Nov.2016. A rally in support of the campaign to prevent seismic testing is taking place behind him. The Court has not yet issued its decision. © Waubgeshig Rice/CBC

There are several small communities of Inuit along the eastern coast of Baffin Island, and indeed throughout the Arctic, who are opposed to the exploration.

These communities rely heavily on fishing and other marine mammals for sustenance and their way of life.

They have serious concerns about the effect that the loud underwater blasts may have on marine life.

Whales and other creatures communicate through underwater sound and there are fears that not only could the loud regular blasts chase animals away, but also about the potential physical damage they may suffer to hearing for example. In humans hearing damage can begin at  85db.

RCI-April 2015-SCC appeal

RCI- May 2016-scientists-inuit opposed

The project details given to the National Energy Board say the underwater air blasts of 230 decibels at a distance of one metre away, would occur every 13-15 seconds 24 hours a day.

Sonic cannon send loud blasts through the water. The sound reflects at different rates off the underlying layers of the ocean floor, the reflected sound is picked up by a towed hydrophone and sent to special equipment where it is analyzed to indicate presence of oil or gas reserves under the ocean floor with GPS records indicating exact location. © USGS Woods Hole Institute

The shock waves penetrate the ocean floor and reflect back at differing rates to indicate various layers and materials beneath such as pockets of oil or gas.

Canada’s National Energy Board approved the seismic testing plan in the cross-hatched area just outside the 12 nautical mile coastal area off Baffin Island, © Environmental Assessment Report for the NORTHEASTERN CANADA 2D SEISMIC SURVEY (Baffin Bay/Davis Strait)

Natanine says he’s very please the consortium has announced yet another postponement for this year, but says it’s not due to the Inuit concerns, but merely because of the current lower value for oil and gas.

For now he says, they are just waiting for the Supreme Court of Canada to hand down their decision to the communities challenge of the government approval for the testing.

Further action will depend on that decision he says.

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