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Nunavut residents consider future of oil and wildlife in Lancaster Sound

"Will the oil and gas potential have a role in this? Absolutely."


There’s an ocean of oil lying under the proposed conservation area of Lancaster Sound, Nunavut.

But the area is also home to more than a million birds, Canada’s largest polar bear subpopulation and an estimated 75 per cent of the world’s narwhals.

Which makes Lancaster Sound spectacular in many ways.

Members of the public heard a lot about oil, gas and wildlife Dec. 2 at a public consultation meeting in Iqaluit to discuss a proposed National Marine Conservation Area in Lancaster Sound, the body of water which separates northern Baffin Island from Devon Island.

If the conservation area is approved, there would be no oil and gas extraction there, but it all depends on how the map is drawn. It’s still in preliminary stages and areas rich in natural resources could be excluded.

There certainly is incentive for that. Based on the most recent Parks Canada research in Lancaster Sound, the seabed contains 13 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 4.5 billion barrels of oil.

“These are very large numbers, ones that we don’t often use,” said Natural Resources Canada project geologist Danny Wright. “It’s hard for us to imagine how much that is.”

That amount of oil is comparable to the Hibernia oil field, off the coast of Newfoundland — the world’s largest oil platform.

Lancaster Sound is not the largest oil field in the world — that title goes to Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, thought to contain more than 100 billion barrels of oil.

But there’s still a lot of oil, explained Wright, enough to supply world demand for 50 days.

He warned that it’s just an estimate. To be sure about how much oil is in the sound, “you would have to go there and do drilling,” Wright said.

Parks Canada didn’t even look at other alternative gases, older rocks,  and a few other ways gas can be stored.

“There could be potentially more oil and gas in Lancaster Sound,” Wright said.

The tentative proposal for the National Marine Conservation Area by Parks Canada would cover just over 40,000 square kilometres.

“It’s actually quite huge,” Carey Elverum of Parks Canada said.

The reason Parks Canada is looking to protect the area is because critical wildlife thrives there.

There are “several species at risk” in the area, which include “bowhead, beluga, narwhal, and polar bear, that rely on Lancaster sound for critical life stages,” said Francine Mercier of Parks Canada.

About 75 per cent of the world’s narwhal population and 20 per cent of the beluga population reside in Lancaster Sound.

In addition, it’s home to 17 per cent of the Canadian polar bear population — the largest subpopulation in Canada.

“It also supports the largest seabird colonies in the Canadian Arctic. There’s about 350,000 pairs of seabirds. And if you count the non-sea birds, there’s about a million birds there,” Mercier said.

The amount of oil in Lancaster Sound doesn’t necessarily put the conservation area in jeopardy, said David Monteith of Nunavut Parks and Special Places. 

“The end result of the feasibility study is going to be a report that will have a variety of options,” Monteith said.

“Will the oil and gas potential have a role in this? Absolutely. We’re just not sure what that will be,” he said.

“I wouldn’t say the oil and gas potential will be the deciding factor — I think it’s just one component,” Monteith said.

The president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the environmental ministers for the governments of Nunavut and Canada all have to agree on a proposed plan.

But there’s a long way to go before the proposal takes shape.

Parks Canada is still in its feasibility assessment stage. After that, a steering committee report, an Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreement and an interim management plan all need be completed before Parliament can pass the proposed conservation area. 

For now there are some discrepancies on what the map should look like.

The QIA travelled with Parks Canada to the affected communities of Grise Fiord, Resolute Bay, Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet, and Clyde River.

The regional Inuit association then compiled data based on Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. Their proposed area extends both west and east — at each opening of the Sound — from what Parks Canada is recommending.

The QIA boundary also cuts through land that has been leased out by the Canadian government to oil company Shell.

It is unknown how long the lease lasts, but the lease began several decades ago, according to the QIA.

“We’ve got to take in all information that feeds into the decision. Once we’ve been to all the communities, gathered all the information,” Elverum said, “the six steering committee members will sit down and look at all the information we have to make a decision on a recommendation.”

The QIA and Parks Canada will travel to the six communities again in early 2014 to get more feedback on their revised plans.


#1. Posted by eskimo joe on December 04, 2013

here’s how any deal should be like; iiba should change as follows: closet communities to sites for developments should receive 50% of any royalties of any sort (mining, oil doesn’t matter), 40% to the people of the region where development will be and the reminder to rio’s. sounds good? make this happen baffin then you will hear qia whistling a different tune. why should all that $$ goes to qia? so the staff can travel more? higher wages? benefit of the staff? better staff housing, more company vehicles? when inuit orgs screw up, they do screw big time. case in point baker lake should have taken most of the meadow bank benefits, not david and company.

#2. Posted by Selling Out?! on December 04, 2013

Seriously, why would this even be a consideration?! The impact this would have, aside from the possibility of a catastrophic accident, is so outrageous I, for one, have to strongly protest. This area, among others and all for that matter, is so entirely critical to the species that will be affected it is another step in the wrong direction for Canadians, humans and sadly the wildlife, which again come last in our selfish processes! Shame on us!


#3. Posted by jimmyy on December 04, 2013

Enough to supply world demand for fifty days?

Is that worth risking damage to the environment?

I have no idea!!

#4. Posted by Selling Out?! on December 04, 2013

Meant to add that as well, jimmyy. 50 days…sickening!

#5. Posted by Think about the consequences on December 04, 2013

I can’t believe eskimo joe is already considering the money involved. Although I know that big oil is a mammoth monster and under the conservative government, it has been hard to stop their progress, but I would hope that everyone would consider the future of Nunavut’s environment. 

Listen to this: 16 of the worlds largest cargo ships emit as much sulphur pollution as ALL CARS OF THE WORLD COMBINED. (
Now consider the fact that the IIBA for the Mary River Iron ore project was just approved and shipping to the north will increase dramatically starting in the summer of 2015 and increase year by year, eventually shipping year-round. 
The money flowing into Nunavut will be good economically, but will be an environmental disaster from just the increase in emissions. Destruction of our earth for generations, all in the name of advancement today. losing faith in humankind.

#6. Posted by Psea on December 04, 2013

I cant get my head around that this has even remotely been considered. The current government will not address the effect of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming so forget about them backing the people of the north and protecting their livelihood and way of life. This is some of last untamed wilderness on earth. Say no to this rape of the earth. Money spent on oil and gas exploration would go a long way into sustainable green energy.  TAKE A SNIFF HARPER . You cant even run your own office above board why should you run the country any differently. David Suziki was right.

#7. Posted by Bob on December 04, 2013

@5 There really isn’t that much money flowing into Nunavut from these projects, compared to the amount of money that the federal government injects into the GN each and every year.

The only money that Nunavut/GN could receive, would be a percentage of the “after cost” revenue that is generated.  Production costs in Nunavut for any mining/oil/gas project are incredibly high, so the money left after isn’t much, and most is pocketed by the select associations and their close associates.

Most of the consumables these mining projects use are not bought locally, they’re brought up from the South.  The same is true for most of the workforce. 

The vast majority of the Nunavut population will not see any benefit from these projects.

#8. Posted by jimmyy on December 05, 2013

Well I am not an expert, but Iknow that there are a lot of Inuit employed at the Mary River Project.

The said employees pay taxes, and support their families.

I might be wrong, but this is not costing the GN any money, I don’t think they are even involved in training, although the GN has trained a lot of HEO over the years.

This is now paying off!!

#9. Posted by jimmyy on December 05, 2013

Whatever the reason hamlets are in debt and laying off employees.

We have to support (feed) our families!!

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