Fin in the News "Bigger northern conservation area planned after Shell relinquishes permits"

By Denis Calnan, The Hill Times. July 18, 2016

Parks Canada says that in the wake of Shell Canada relinquishing all its exploratory permits near Lancaster Sound, off the shores of northern Nunavut, an agreement on a National Marine Conservation Area could be in place by the end of 2017.

In early June, Shell Canada announced that it was giving its offshore exploratory permits to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which in turn gave them up in order for the federal government to create the conservation area.

Shell was in the midst of a court battle against the World Wildlife Fund's Canadian branch, which claimed that the oil company's right to the permits had expired. With the announcement from Shell on World Oceans Day on June 8, the case was dropped.

Shell said that it had 30 exploration licences in Baffin Bay near Lancaster Sound, which were issued on May 19, 1971. The government implemented a moratorium on oil-and-gas activity later that decade and the ban has been in place for almost 40 years.

The federal government already had plans for a marine conservation area there, and with the relinquished permits, that protected area is expected to be expanded.

"That 45,000-square-kilometre original proposal excluded the area that had the Shell permits in it," said John Lounds, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

"But the work that's been done to date, the interest is actually to getting to a size of over a 100,000 square kilometres," said Mr. Lounds, who said he approached Shell about releasing the permits.

"Parks Canada continues to work in partnership with the Government of Nunavut and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association to complete the feasibility assessment in support of the creation of a National Marine Conservation Area in Lancaster Sound," wrote Audrey Champagne, a media relations officer with Parks Canada, in an email to The Hill Times.

Mr. Lounds said Lancaster Sound is rich with marine life, including significant populations of narwals, as well as beluga and bowhead whales, along with various species of seabirds.

"When government and Inuit associations were starting to talk about making this a protected area, it was something that really interested us," said Tara Lemay, a spokesperson for Shell Canada.

"We weren't using these permits and we wanted to look at ways to contribute them to conservation," she said, noting that Shell and the Nature Conservancy have a long history of working together.

She said those talks started before WWF started its court battle with Shell.

WWF has since signalled that it is pleased with Shell's move, although Greenpeace suggested it amounted to a public relations stunt.

"The evidence indicated these permits had actually expired years ago. It's a bit fresh of Shell to claim it's relinquishing them voluntarily to support Arctic protection. This is their attempt to score some brownie points and exit from the scene gracefully," said the statement by Greenpeace Arctic campaigner Alex Speers-Roesch.

In an email to The Hill Times, NDP MP Fin Donnelly (Port Moody-Coquitlam, B.C.), his party's fisheries and oceans critic, said the relinquishing of permits is a win for the Inuit of Nunavut.

"After a decade of stalling under the Conservatives, the inclusion of the former Shell lease area in the new Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area is a significant win for ocean conservation and for local Inuit communities that have called for this level of protection from the start," Mr. Donnelly said.

"This area is a rich and unique ecosystem, as well as an important migration route for marine mammals. We want to see the Liberal government commit to enlarging the protected area to include the area covered by the permits, in consultation with the Inuit, as a step towards the goal of increasing marine protected areas to 10 per cent by 2020," he said.

Parks Canada's Ms. Champagne said in her email that the "Lancaster Sound steering committee is now working to complete its analysis of the various studies and consultations from the five affected communities (Pond Inlet, Grise Fiord, Arctic Bay, Resolute and Clyde River), as well as from key stakeholders. This analysis will inform a report and recommendations to governments and Inuit."

It went on to say that the steering committee will submit its findings by the fall of 2016.

"Should the decision be made to proceed, negotiation of an Inuit impacts and benefits agreement, as required by the Nunavut land claims agreement, would begin. The objective would be to have a signed agreement by the end of 2017," it said.

Full Article Link