The Canadian government may be moving to relax its “indefinite” moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration in Arctic waters, announced in 2016 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with two federal ministers committing Thursday to negotiate a revenue-sharing agreement with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and the governments of the Northwest Territories and Yukon.
“Our partners were very clear,” Northern Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc said in a release, following a tour of territorial capitals. “They want to be involved in the management of Arctic offshore oil and gas resources, and they want to see economic prosperity and jobs that will benefit Indigenous peoples and all Northerners in the future without affecting the health of their environment.”
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“We heard loud and clear that the protection of the Arctic environment and the sustainable, inclusive development of the region for the benefit of Northern residents and all Canadians are critical to growing Canada’s economy,” added Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi.
When Trudeau originally announced the moratorium, he said it was subject to review every five years. Now, NWT Premier Bob McLeod is pointing to 2021 as a crucial milestone.
“We’ll see as we negotiate. I certainly am feeling very optimistic,” he said. “Unless we deal with the five-year review, things don’t change that much. We’re hoping that after five years, they’ll get rid of it.”
The NWT government “has been waiting for today’s announcement for some time,” he added in a release, “and I appreciate that Minister LeBlanc has been able to make tangible progress.”
The Canadian Press notes that interest in Arctic drilling died down in the early 2010s, with Imperial Oil cancelling its drilling program in 2015, before Trudeau made his announcement. But there are still 63 exploration and discovery licences in place in the Canadian Beaufort Sea, and on Thursday Ottawa said it would “preserve existing offshore exploration rights for energy companies and refund remaining deposits related to those licences,” the news service notes.