Federal research project ‘ill thought out,’ Inuit group says
Canadian federal scientists say they are changing their plans to conduct seismic testing in Lancaster Sound this summer because of concerns raised in Arctic communities.
Natural Resources Canada had been planning to map out underwater geographical features in Lancaster Sound, Nunavut and several other Arctic waterways, potentially revealing oil and gas resources.
The testing would involve sending sound waves through those waterways, which also include Jones Sound and areas near eastern Baffin Island.
Researchers say they have had to adjust their plans because of “unequivocal concerns” raised during four recent public consultations in Nunavut communities about the effects seismic testing could have on marine life in Lancaster Sound.
“We’re not going to be going out to collect the full range of seismic data in Lancaster Sound that we had set out to do,” Donald James, chief geologist with the federal Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office, told CBC News in an interview aired Wednesday.
“It might be the case that in the end, we’re not going to collect any seismic data in there, so we’re going to have to consider other ways to produce the scientific results that we’re looking for.”
Inuit have expressed concerns about the possible impacts seismic tests could have on marine wildlife. They have also said they fear what could happen if oil and gas resources are found in Lancaster Sound.
Federal scientists have stressed that seismic testing would not harm marine animals, nor will it be exploring for oil and gas.
Instead of collecting seismic data using sound waves, James said, scientists are now looking at possible alternatives, such as using satellite imagery.
James said he has taken the communities’ concerns to the federal government and to the Geological Survey of Canada, which had proposed the seismic tests.
“We’ve heard — I think, unequivocally and consistently from the four places that we visited — that the Lancaster Sound part of the proposed survey is the one that is most sensitive to people in the area,” he said.
James said the project’s scientific team is crafting three new plans that will be shown to the Nunavut Research Institute, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and other agencies as early as next week.
“The science team is actively working on making some, we think, significant modifications to the survey to take us out of these sensitive areas. But at the same time, we’re trying to protect the scientific integrity of the project,” James said.
Conservation area studied
“We still want to go out and collect meaningful data that’s going to address what we’re trying to do scientifically, [but] at the same time be very respectful of what we’ve heard from communities and taking into account everything that people have asked us to do,” he added.
The federal researchers have been holding consultations in Nunavut communities this month, with their last meeting scheduled for Thursday evening in the High Arctic hamlet of Grise Fiord.
Concerns about seismic testing in Lancaster Sound arose earlier this year because the federal government has also been thinking of designating Lancaster Sound — which is home to whales, seabirds and other animals — as a national marine conservation area.
Parks Canada has been working with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the Nunavut government on a feasibility study.
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association has opposed the federal seismic testing plans, calling for no work related to oil and gas resources to be done in Lancaster Sound.
Inuit group ‘still in the dark’
“QIA is not jumping for joy. We think that this project was ill thought out and we’re happy that the department is now prepared to reconsider,” said John Amagoalik, the Inuit association’s executive policy advisor.
“They haven’t come out with clear proposals for change, so we’re still sort of in the dark as to what they may do next,” he added. “Once we know what they have in mind, then we’ll be able to react to them.”
The researchers have argued that any seismic data collected in Lancaster Sound could help efforts to determine whether it should be designated as a marine conservation area.
“If we don’t collect the seismic data in Lancaster Sound, it’s going to mean that in some respects, there’s a lack of modern seismic data for Lancaster Sound,” James said.
“But at the same time, this project is not going to, I would say, speed up or slow down any approval of the areas as a marine conservation area.”