Nunavut Community Groups Mount Legal Challenge Against Seismic Testing

CLYDE RIVER, NU, July 28, 2014 /CNW/ - Community groups from the small Nunavut town of Clyde River filed an application today at the Federal Court of Appeal challenging a decision of the National Energy Board (NEB) to permit seismic testing in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait.

Seismic testing is a first step in offshore oil and gas drilling.  The seismic survey in this case would involve a seismic ship travelling back and forth across Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, towing an array of airguns that produce pulses of sound waves under the water.

At 230 decibels, these airguns are far louder than any sound known to most human beings — about 100,000 times louder than a jet engine — and they would repeat every 13 to 15 seconds, 24 hours a day, while operating. Exposure to 140 decibels causes permanent hearing loss in humans.

Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, the areas of the proposed seismic testing, are rich in sea mammals, including narwals, bowheads, walruses, and seals.  These marine mammals are staples of Inuit diet and culture.  Unsurprisingly, seismic testing is harmful to marine life. The heavy sounds and vibrations caused by seismic testing can cause permanent damage to marine animals, including permanent hearing loss, disruption of feeding, and disruption of migration routes.

Because of these significant risks, numerous Nunavut-based institutions and groups had asked the NEB to withhold approval for the project until further research could be done on the safety of the proposed seismic testing.

Despite widespread concerns from the Nunavut communities, and despite acknowledging the risks to marine wildlife, the NEB approved the project last month. 

Given the potentially catastrophic consequences of poorly regulated seismic testing on Inuit communities, the Hamlet of Clyde River, the Nammautaq Hunters and Trappers Organization of Clyde River, and the Mayor of Clyde River, Jerry Natanine, have gone to the Federal Court of Appeal to seek judicial review of the NEB's decision.

"Inuit have lived off of this land and these waters for over 4,000 years," said Mayor Natanine.  "The marine mammals in these waters are central to our way of life.  They are our food and are integral to our culture.  If the oil companies take that away, we'll have nothing left."

"The NEB's decision violates the fundamental rights of the people of Nunavut," added constitutional lawyer Nader Hasan, who is representing the Clyde River applicants in this lawsuit.  "The federal government has a solemn constitutional obligation to meaningfully consult and accommodate the people of Nunavut on any issues affecting their Aboriginal or treaty rights.  That didn't happen here.  Once again, the NEB was a rubber stamp for the Energy Industry."

Mayor Natanine added: "I want to be clear that we're not opposed to all mineral, oil or gas extraction.  But we need assurances that our food, economy and culture will not be destroyed."

Unless the Clyde River applicants prevail in court, seismic testing in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait will begin in 2015.

SOURCE Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan

For further information: Media Contact: Nader R. Hasan, Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan, Barristers, T: 416-964-9664, E: nhasan@rubyshiller.com, W: www.rubyshiller.com