June 12, 2008 12:14 ET

WWF-Canada: Beaufort Sea Oil and Gas Sale Heightens Oil Spill Risk

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - June 12, 2008) - WWF-Canada today said that the recent billion-dollar oil and gas lease sale in the Beaufort Sea heightens the risk of oil spills in the Arctic environment. And, while the Inuvialuit-led Beaufort Sea Strategic Regional Plan of Action (BSStRPA) has identified those risks, as well as measures to address them, the federal government has yet to act on those recommendations.

"It is disappointing that the federal government would allow these lease sales before demonstrating any capability to clean up spilled oil, thereby protecting critical habitat for polar bears, whales and other Arctic species," said Craig Stewart, Director, Ottawa Bureau, WWF-Canada. "This is not the right way to assert Arctic Sovereignty in the 21st century."

Canada's Oceans Act mandates the development of integrated management plans and marine protected areas networks in all of Canada's oceans. Planning is underway by the Beaufort Sea Partnership which is co-led by the Inuvialuit and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), but the work is not yet complete. The Beaufort Sea Strategic Regional Plan of Action is expected to form a large component of the Integrated Management Plan for the Beaufort Sea.

"WWF-Canada has a thirty year history of working collaboratively in the Arctic, including as a participant in integrated management planning dating back to the late nineties," continued Stewart. "The lease sale not only pre-empts certain conservation options, it also undermines the very process through which stakeholders have been working to achieve a shared agenda for conservation and development."

WWF-Canada respects the right of the Inuvialuit to self-governance and the principles of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement which include preserving the Inuvialuit cultural identity and values, enabling participation in the northern and national economies, and protecting Arctic species and the environment.

"We recognize that delaying economic opportunities, such as approving oil and gas leases, can present real difficulties for the Inuvialuit," said Dr Robert Powell, Director, Mackenzie River Basin program for WWF-Canada. "But we also believe this sale was premature due to the absence of a completed management plan."

Contrary to claims by some federal officials, in 2005 the federal government actually weakened legislation to exempt offshore exploratory activities from the requirement for an advance environmental assessment. Now, only a cursory screening is necessary at the federal level.

"The Beaufort Sea Partnership has made significant progress over the past year, but the job is not yet done," concluded Stewart. "We hope to soon hear a firm target date from the federal government for completion of the Beaufort Sea Integrated Management Plan. We look forward to working constructively with the Inuvialuit, federal officials and industry to complete that plan and to identify and set aside ecologically sensitive areas from development as envisioned by the Oceans Act."

This news release and associated material can be found on wwf.ca.

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