Potential heavy oil fuel ban sparks debate over cost of living

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Some of Nunavut’s political leaders want assurances that prices Nunavummiut pay for community resupply aren’t going to climb drastically if a heavy fuel oil ban is imposed on Arctic shipping.

Sealift will be more expensive if shipping companies are forced to abandon heavy fuel oils in Arctic Waters, according to a Transport Canada report. photo courtesy of NEAS

A Transport Canada report estimates that sealift could cost four to 11 per cent more – $248-$679 per household – if ships are no longer allowed to use heavy fuel oils. That would affect the cost of food, furniture, appliances, construction materials, harvesting supplies, medical equipment, electricity and mining operations.

“Any increase in consumer goods costs, even as low as four per cent will impact the purchasing power of already vulnerable communities,” the report states.

Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada and the International Maritime Organization, which falls under the umbrella of the United Nations, all support a prohibition on heavy fuel oils due to environmental risks.

The Transport Canada analysis acknowledges that a ban would have “positive environmental impacts” by reducing sulphur oxides, black carbon and fine particulate matter. It would also lessen damage to water, land and wildlife in the event of a spill.

David Akeeagok, minister of Economic Development and Transportation, said Nunavut already has a very high cost of living and a substantial number of territorial households regularly experience food insecurity.

“The cost of banning the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters cannot further add to everyday expenses like food, household items, materials, etc.,” Akeeagok stated. “The Government of Nunavut will advocate that any ban include measures to offset the cost to Nunavummiut and industry.”

Nunavut Sen. Dennis Patterson said he expressed his support for a ban on heavy fuel oils in the Senate because it’s an Inuit-led initiative “and I respect the right of Inuit to manage the environment within their homeland.”

However, the new information presented in the Transport Canada report must also be considered, he said.

“Canada should not be pressured to rush into a position on the ban without first considering all the alternatives which could include retrofitting vessel stacks with scrubbers (exhaust fumes cleaning systems) to lower emissions.”

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, Nunavut’s member of Parliament, stated that “people in the North shouldn’t have to face a choice between affording the basics and taking on big risks to irreplaceable ecosystems central to Northerners’ way of life.”

She added that it’s “incredibly disappointing that at the same time as Northerners face an extremely high cost of living and serious environmental risks, the Liberals have left $150 million of their commitment to the Oceans Protection Plan unspent and haven’t fixed Stephen Harper’s broken Nutrition North program.”

The potential to outlaw heavy fuel oils in the Arctic comes on the heels of an International Marine Organization cap on global sulphur from marine fuels, lowering it to 0.5 per cent from 3.5 per cent, which took effect Jan. 1. That measure is expected to raise costs for community resupply by nine to 12 per cent, which would be $535-$713 more per year for Nunavummiut, according to the Transport Canada report.

Research by conservation group WWF Canada shows that heavy fuel oil prices decreased by nearly 65 per cent between 2014 and 2017, yet food costs still rose by approximately 15 per cent. WWF Canada has recommended liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative fuel, which would reduce pollutants by up to 97 per cent. However, ships fuelled by LNG are much more expensive to build than conventional vessels.

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