By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A Norway-based energy consortium planning to conduct seismic testing in the waters off Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic has postponed the fiercely-contested project for this year, one of companies involved said on Thursday.
Oil and gas exploration companies Petroleum Geo Services, TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company ASA and Multi Klient Invest AS were granted a license by the National Energy Board last June to use seismic testing up and down the Davis Strait.
The Nunavut hamlet of Clyde River filed a federal court appeal against the NEB decision, arguing the high-decibel blasts from underwater canons used to help map the seabed would damage the diverse marine species of the area, many of which the people of Clyde River depend on for food.
They include narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales, seals and walrus.
The NEB said on Wednesday the consortium has decided it will not go ahead with the testing this summer, a move confirmed on Thursday by PGS.
"The project is not canceled, but we have decided to postpone the project for 2015," said Bard Stenberg, vice president of investor relations at GPS. "We have not elaborated on the reason why we made this decision."
The Federal Court of Appeals has not yet ruled on the legal challenge filed by Clyde River. NEB spokeswoman Tara O'Donovan told CBC News the consortium was delaying until next year while awaiting that decision.
"They indicated that while they were waiting for the decision to come from the federal court on the judicial review, they wanted to have more certainty around the timing of their project," O'Donovan said.
The Arctic is estimated to contain about 20 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and natural gas, but harsh conditions, short summer exploration and drilling seasons and low oil prices mean its recovery could be decades away.
David Miller, President of the World Wildlife Foundation Canada, said he was thrilled the seismic testing had been deferred but would anxiously await the decision from the Federal Court of Appeals.
"We hope the voices of northern communities will continue to influence decision-making around the lands and waters on which they depend for their livelihood and survival," Miller said.
(Editing by Grant McCool)