Canada’s Arctic: Is Government Breaking the Rules for Shell in Lancaster Sound?

Research by Canadian not-for-profit raises serious concerns about how the Canadian government is managing the vulnerable Arctic ecosystem in the face of oil interests.

While Shell recently made news for pulling out of the Chukchi Sea off Alaska, has discovered that Shell holds 30 long-standing permits to explore for oil and gas in Canada’s eastern Arctic, right beside the long-awaited Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area. has been able to obtain one of the permits in question. It was issued in 1971 and its last known one-year renewal took place in 1978.  It therefore appears to have expired in 1979. But according to the 2014 annual report by the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, this decades-old permit is still active.

“If the permit didn’t actually expire in 1979,” says Vandana (Erin) Ryder,’s legal counsel, “did Shell enter into negotiations with the Ministry for a new exploration licence, and 33 years later, those negotiations still haven’t concluded? 33 years is a long time, especially when the negotiations were only supposed to take six months.”

This discovery suggests that the Minister may have been repeatedly extending the time for negotiations on the license renewal. If this is the case, the lack of an open and competitive tendering process may not be in line with Canada’s domestic and international trade treaty obligations.

“Do the permits have anything to do with why the proposed boundary for the new Lancaster Sound national marine park has shifted?” says Ryder. “Unfortunately, according to government maps, it looks that way.” continues to conduct research to ensure the permanent protection of the vulnerable Arctic ecosystem.

A full backgrounder with findings is available at

A copy of Permit A6326 is available at

REVISED March 31, 2016

Emails between Erin Ryder, legal counsel for, and Michel Chenier, Director of the Petroleum and Mineral Resources Directorate at Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

The emails are available here is a Canadian not-for-profit working to protect the Arctic Ocean by stopping seismic testing and oil exploration, and establishing the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS).