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Oil spills top concerns at NEB round table
Arctic Offshore drilling round table last step before public report

Samantha Stokell
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, September 15, 2011

At a major gathering of stakeholders of offshore drilling in the Arctic, community residents and leaders within the Inuvialuit Settlement Region voiced their concerns for preventing, responding and cleaning up after a blow-out.

NNSL photo/graphic

Inuvik high school students Davis Neyando, Allison Baetz and Amie Charlie discuss their concerns with offshore drilling in the Beaufort Sea during the National Energy Board of Canada round table event in Inuvik on September 13. The event runs from September 12 to 16. - Samantha Stokell/NNSL Photo

The National Energy Board of Canada event drew more than 175 participants to Inuvik for the final discussion on offshore drilling in the Arctic before it releases a public report later this year. The round table comes after a year and a half of consulting with communities and calling for information on what Northerners and other Canadians would like to see in future applications for drilling offshore in the Arctic.

The NEB started the review after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and leak in the Gulf of Mexico in spring of 2010. The greatest concerns for those living in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region comes from the possibility of a spill in their area, too.

Nellie Cournoyea, chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, voiced her concern for the failure to prevent a blow-out, stop a blow-out and contain and clean up the spill after a blow-out effectively in Arctic waters.

"Industry failed on all three accounts," Cournoyea said. "At this time we simply cannot take the chance that any one or more of these failures will be repeated to the detriment of the health of the Beaufort Sea ecosystems."

Cournoyea continued to voice her concern that all three main clean up options – skimmers, dispersants and in-situ burning – would not work or have not been assessed for success in ice-covered waters. She also added that in addition to the inability to stop and clean up a spill if it occurred, the Beaufort Sea has limited to no accessible equipment or resources to take action if a spill happened.

"At the present time we do not have any detailed life cycle understanding of the living organisms within the Beaufort Sea, let alone know how an uncontrolled hydrocarbon spill would impact these organisms," Cournoyea said. "So we would like to see a solution process to getting answers to these questions and putting measures in place where we can have the resources to finally get the research done and to provide answers to how we are going to deal with the three issues."

Those concerns were repeated over and over again by community members and leaders during the first couple days of the round table – how will industry clean up a spill and where will the resources come from. Students from Samuel Hearne Secondary School had a chance to have their say about off-shore drilling.

"The result of an oil spill will have devastating effects," said Amie Charlie. "How often will exploration happen there? Who will pay for the clean up? Who will monitor the situation?"

All three students had concerns about the environmental impacts in case of a spill, but Allison Baetz, a Grade 12 student, also mentioned the benefits of off shore drilling in her community.

"It's possible some good will come out of it," Baetz said. "Educational opportunities and more employment opportunities for trades people to improve their skills. We'll have a place to come to after university."

She also noted that there were some bad possible outcomes and how all the effects will be related.

"If there's a spill, there's a pretty good chance it'll affect the water quality," Baetz said. "If the water quality is bad, it'll affect the marine wildlife, which would affect my uncles who hunt beluga."

Inuit Circumpolar Council of Canada president and chair of Inuvik Community Corporation Duane Smith also discussed how dependant Inuit culture is on the Arctic water. All but two Inuit communities in Canada are on coastlines, and that same percentage goes across the entire Inuit circumpolar world.

"It’s reflecting how much our relationship is tied to the marine resources and the coastline as a part of our culture, not only within Canada or this region as you’ve heard already, but throughout the circumpolar Arctic," Smith said. "The Inuit do not see ourselves apart from (the coast), we see ourselves as a part of the ecosystem. Anything that’s going to affect the ecosystem is going to affect who we are as a people as well."

Over the four days, participants and speakers from all three territories, the rest of Canada, the United States, Greenland and Norway, including communities representatives in the NWT and Nunavut, co-management and resource management bodies, Inuvialuit governments, federal and territorial, non-governmental organizations, environmental watchdogs, consultants and industry listened to each other and listed their concerns for filing requirements for permits to drill in the Beaufort Sea.

The NEB will release a public report detailing regulations later in 2011.

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