Seismic Tests Worry Canada’s Inuit

Federal scientists present details of their seismic testing project to the Qikiqtani Inuit Association in Iqaluit on Tuesday. (CBC)A Nunavut Inuit organization has ramped up opposition to plans for seismic testing in Lancaster Sound, where the Canadian federal government is also looking at creating a conservation area.

As Natural Resources Canada consults the affected Nunavut communities about the testing proposal, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association is leading the charge against it.

“We don’t understand what seismic testing means,” Okalik Eegeesiak, president of the Baffin Island-area Inuit organization, told CBC News.

The project, which federal scientists hope to start this summer, would be an attempt to map out underwater geographical features. Beginning in August, a research vessel would send sound waves though several Arctic waterways, including Lancaster Sound.

The scientists began consultations in northern Baffin Island communities this week.

Eegeesiak and other association officials got a look at the proposal in Iqaluit on Tuesday at a presentation from the federal Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office.

Not drilling for oil: scientist

“It comes across as, ‘The communities really need this,'” said Eegeesiak, who is skeptical. “The bottom line is for potential oil and gas.”

But Donald James, chief geologist with the geoscience office, said the project — called Geomapping for Energy and Minerals — insisted that scientists will not be digging for oil.

“It’s our intent that this data is going to help governments and communities, people and resource companies, to make better decisions with respect to land use, as well as for making better decisions with respect to exploration in searching for minerals and energy,” James said.

Potential conservation area

Last year, the federal government committed more than $5 million towards studying whether Lancaster Sound should be designated a national marine conservation area. The Qikiqtani Inuit Association has been working with Parks Canada and the Nunavut government on the study.

On Tuesday, scientists stressed that modern seismic testing methods are safe and would not harm marine wildlife. They pointed to recent tests in the St. Lawrence River as an example.

But John Amagoalik, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s director of lands and resources, remained critical.

“Seismic exploration is one of the last things we want,” Amagoalik said. “This is Lancaster Sound, and a national marine conservation area project was announced by the prime minister.”

Lancaster Sound is a habitat for narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales, as well as for seals, walrus and polar bears. Seabirds flock to Lancaster Sound in the hundreds of thousands.

Nunavut watches hearings

Last month, the Nunavut Impact Review Board said the seismic testing can proceed without further review.

But territorial Environment Minister Daniel Shewchuk said the government will be watching the consultations and determine whether final approval should be given.

“We don’t know that it’s going to happen yet for sure,” Shewchuk said.

“We’re going to wait until the consultations are done, see what the concerns are, see how they’re mitigated, and a decision at some point in time will be made after that.”

Eegeesiak said a lot of questions will likely come up at the community consultations, which are expected to run until next week. She said Natural Resources Canada doesn’t know the answer to some questions.

“What is useful for the individual Inuk? she asked. “What is useful for the Inuit communities?”

CBC News

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