Coal Exploration to Begin in Fragile High Arctic

Canada Coal Inc.’s plan to begin exploratory drilling on Ellesmere Island next summer raises concerns about wildlife habitat and ancient fossil site protection. It also raises questions about the future of the High Arctic as seen by the Harper Conservatives.

“The Conservatives indirectly cut PEARL, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory, Canada`s largest, northernmost research laboratory, located on Ellesmere Island just months ago,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, MP Saanich-Gulf Islands. “Is it a coincidence that one of the most polluting, resource-extraction industries is now ready to exploit the area?”

PEARL had been tracking ozone depletion, climate change, and air quality in the High Arctic, but the Canadian Network for Detection of Atmospheric Change, a network of university researchers who ran it, weren’t able to secure the $1.5 million annual funding required to continue their work.

PEARL had been supported by the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) which had its funding eliminated and closed in March. PEARL was also supported by the Major Resources Support Program (MRS) which has been negatively affected by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) funding “moratorium” – again due to Conservative budget cuts.

At the time of PEARL’s closure announcement, Jim Drummond of Dalhousie University stated: “We’re losing the ability to know what’s going on up there.”

Also, Conservative budget cuts at Environment Canada have forced it to scale back the monitoring and oversight of a program designed to help the mining industry meet emission standards. Environment Canada personnel have been told that the Environmental Effects Monitoring Program “will prioritize work based on risk” and “not always provide guidance on a facility-by-facility basis.”

On Ellesmere Island, residents are hoping that the Nunavut land-claims agreement and the promises of Canada Coal will protect their hunting grounds. They are also worried about rare, now-extinct animal fossils and the remnants of a 45-million-year-old forest preserved in the soil.

“When most countries are turning their backs on dirty coal, Canada is allowing its extraction in one of the most ecologically fragile and archeologically significant places in the world,” said May. “It is doing this after dismantling the well-placed PEARL monitoring capacities that would have given us some appreciation of the damage being done.

“This is not good news. It’s time to bring back the scientists.”

Government data show that coal plants represent seven of the top ten sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in Canada.