V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Mackenzie Valley Pipeline

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, October, 2007.

YELLOWKNIFE -- On one side of the room inside the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre, a dozen oil bigwigs sit side by side, tapping away on their silver laptops.

Though dressed down in khakis, they are unmistakable southerners -- that is, from south of the Northwest Territories -- with glasses pushed down the bridges of their noses and hushed conversations whispered over tome-sized binders.

They are the proponents -- Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips, Shell Canada and Exxon Mobil -- and they are being cross-examined by a young government lawyer on the environmental impact of drilling bore holes at river crossings in the Mackenzie Delta.

It's deja vu for the proponents of the Mackenzie gas pipeline and the people of the Northwest Territories. Thirty years ago, both engaged in similar hearings before Justice Thomas Berger, who ruled that any pipeline development be delayed 10 years.

Fast-forward 30 years, spin the former aboriginal opposition to the gas pipeline 180 degrees, and we arrive this month in a very different climate.

"By and large, things have changed up here since the 1970s," says Bob Reid, president of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, which has a 30% share of pipeline revenues. "Youth now have satellite TV, wireless Internet, ATVs and snowmobiles. They recognize that economic development is key to breaking reliance on the welfare mentality."

The underground pipeline would carry 800 million cubic feet a day of natural gas from three anchor fields in the Mackenzie Delta, which holds six trillion cubic feet of natural gas and is the largest single natural gas project in Canada.

But not only does it come with a hefty pricetag that recently ballooned to $16.2 billion from $7 billion, the pipeline would also come at a heavy environmental cost.

Human activity and construction would invade valuable habitats for Arctic wildlife.

The proponents want to build an airstrip on a globally renown breeding ground for migratory birds, the Kendall Island Bird Sanctuary, which has environmental groups like the World Wide Fund for Nature crying, well, fowl.

The pipeline would extract natural gas from beneath Kendall Island, where more than 60,000 shorebirds nest in and around the area. But as the gas is drained, the land could sink and lead to flooding, environmentalists claim.

Noise pollution from compressor stations, planes and trucks are also likely to confuse animals and intercept communication like mating and distress calls, they add.

Permafrost makes up 65% of the Mackenzie Delta and varies in thickness. But the permafrost is melting.

"Concerns have been raised at public hearings about the potential impact of climate change on the pipeline," says Brian Chambers, executive director of the Northern Gas Project Secretariat, which liaises with the public about the project. "If constructed, it would pass through an area of continuous and discontinuous permafrost.

"They're concerned about ... the strains it would create on the pipeline."

Imperial Oil maintains the impact will be low, as silencers and insulation will keep noise down. Construction will take place in winter on frozen ground, minimizing impact on the land. Gas will be chilled so it doesn't melt the permafrost. The pipeline was rerouted to avoid migratory paths and habitat for caribou at the urging of the aboriginal community.

"They share our belief that this will provide long-term benefits to the aboriginal communities in the North," says Pius Rolheiser, spokesman for Imperial Oil.

Rolheiser also seeks to quell charges the pipeline will go to feed the oilsands in Alberta.

"The gas will join the North American gas market," he says. "Some of it will heat your home, my home, generate electricity and be used for industrial purposes. We don't have specific contracts in place. It's simply, uncategorically untrue."

Public hearings are currently under way and scheduled to end in November. The earliest the gas could flow is 2014.

-- -- --

·  The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline will start near Inuvik and extend 1,220 km south along the delta and join with pipelines in northern Alberta. It will cross more than 500 waterways and run through heavily forested areas.

·  Ecologists warn the pipeline could lead to permafrost melt.

·  Loss of vegetation could eliminate some species.

·  Could interrupt water flow of lakes, rivers and groundwater.

·  Could change the quality of the water, upset fish habitats.

·  The construction and use of the pipeline will raise greenhouse gas emissions in NWT by an estimated 44%.

Source: Canadian Geographic



·  Animals potentially adversely affected by the pipeline include barren ground caribou, grizzly bears, moose, geese and fish due to:

·  reduced habitat availability

·  vegetation clearing

·  physical barriers such as roads, equipment storage areas, camps

·  watercourse crossings by the pipeline

·  possible dredging

·  Construction noise may deter the migration patterns of some species.

·  Pipeline will run through Kendall Island Migration Bird Sanctuary.

Part 3 of a special 8 day series

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