The BP oil rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico frightened many coastal peoples, such as the Inuit, who are dependent on fish and other marine resources for their livelihoods. The concerns expressed in a number of Arctic communities back in May about plans to do seismic testing for possible gas and oil resources in Lancaster Sound have grown. An important Inuit community group is planning to challenge the plans in court.
News stories last week reported that the Qikiqtani Inuit Association has served a notice to Christian Paradis, Canadian Federal Minister for Natural Resources, and to Daniel Shewchuk, Environment Minister for Nunavut, that the group intends to request an injunction which would prevent seismic testing this summer in Lancaster sound. The president of the group, Qkalik Eegeesiak, argues that local communities were not consulted properly.
The Inuit are especially concerned that the sound waves used in seismic testing could harm the whales, polar bears, walrus, and other wildlife of Lancaster Sound, a particularly rich area for sea life. Canadian Minister for the Environment, Jim Prentice, had initiated talks about turning the sound into a marine conservation area, but that stated goal appears to the local people to be quite contradictory to plans for gas and oil exploration.
The Inuit resent not having adequate discussions with the officials while they were planning for the seismic testing. Eegeesiak said that during meetings in four different communities, the Inuit were nearly unanimous in opposing testing. She said, further, that the communities and associations nearest the Lancaster Sound side of Baffin Island are strongly in favor of applying for the injunction. It will be filed in the Nunavut Court of Justice.
Ministers Shewchuk and Prentice are both downplaying the possible effects of the seismic testing, claiming that it would cause little harm to wildlife. Mr. Prentice adds that the process of assessing mineral resources is a routine part of preparing an area for designation as a park. The ship that is to do the testing is on its way to Lancaster Sound from Iceland.