Drilling north of the Arctic Circle near Tuktoyaktuk. Peter Llewellyn/Dreamstime
The federal government has agreed to “shared decision-making” with the Inuvialuit, NWT and Yukon governments over Arctic offshore oil and gas.
On Thursday, the governments said a new accord would ensure northerners “are the primary beneficiaries of economic activity from any oil and gas development in their regions.”
“Inuvialuit have long been sidelined from participation in the management of offshore oil and gas exploration and development in the Western Arctic. Today, this comes to an end,” Inuvialuit Regional Corporation chair and chief executive Duane Ningaqsiq Smith was quoted as saying.
There hasn’t been any such exploration and development for years. In December 2016, Canada declared all Canadian Arctic waters to be indefinitely off-limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing. That moratorium, which has since been renewed, is currently due to expire at the end of December this year.
Thursday’s announcement made no mention of the moratorium. Whether it will be extended at the end of this year or be allowed to expire remains unclear.
Canada has said it is carrying out “engagement with northern communities” about what happens next.
Kyle Allen, northern affairs minister Dan Vandal’s press secretary, told Cabin Radio: “We will continue to work closely with northern and Indigenous partners as we move forward in assessing climate and marine-based conditions in the Arctic offshore and informing future decisions on the moratorium.”
Various northern governments – including the GNWT and IRC – have publicly objected to the moratorium.
At the same time, industry enthusiasm for oil and gas associated with the territory is hard to gauge, and there remain a wide range of environment and climate-related concerns about the North turning to oil and gas as an economic saviour.
But parties like the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation have long maintained that decisions about local oil and gas should not be Canada’s alone to make.
In a news release, the federal government said the new accord “will establish an oil and gas co-management and revenue-sharing arrangement with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Government of the Northwest Territories, and the Government of Yukon” for the offshore area in question.
“Recognizing the climate leadership of Indigenous and territorial governments in the North and their commitments to develop cleaner, renewable energy, this historic agreement provides a blueprint for responsible clean energy cooperation in the future,” the news release stated, without elaborating.
Ottawa said the accord would be implemented in federal legislation “at the earliest opportunity.”
A formal announcement of the new accord was set to take place in Inuvik on Thursday but scrapped at the last minute, a cancellation attributed to wildfires in the region.
In a statement, NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane called the deal “a positive step.” Vandal, who kept his position in Justin Trudeau’s recent cabinet shuffle, characterized the accord as a form of “economic reconciliation.”
Vandal’s government says the deal is “the first of its kind with an Indigenous government as a full party.”
Smith was quoted as saying: “This accord recognizes the paramountcy of our Inuvialuit rights under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement and ensures that a share of resource revenues, opportunities and benefits rightfully flow to Inuvialuit communities.
“This is an important step in our continuing journey toward self-determination and reconciliation.”
The IRC will receive $2.5 million over five years to “participate in the implementation and administration of the accord.”