October 11, 2001
With Alaskan oil producers studying alternate routes to bring Alaskan gas to U.S. consumers, Northwest Territories and Yukon conservation groups are challenging governments and industry to support a set of six common principles to be followed in major oil and gas development in northern Canada.
Groups supporting the principles are the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (Yukon and Northwest Territories chapters), Ecology North, Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, World Wildlife Fund Canada and Yukon Conservation Society.
Expressing scepticism that large-scale development is desirable or necessary, the groups are urging that development proceed in a manner that most benefits northern Canadians while doing the least harm to the northern environment. Northern oil and gas production should also be considered a transitional measure, the groups argue, bridging to more sustainable energy generation and consumption measures.
One proposed route of a gas pipeline would follow the Alaska Highway through Yukon Territory. The other would follow the Mackenzie Valley in the Northwest Territories, after connecting with an underwater pipe that would follow the arctic coast.
“People have been sidetracked by the arguments for or against either route, instead of considering the potential harm from any project of this size,” said John Crump, executive director of the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee. “We are saying that if a project goes ahead there are basic principles that must be followed to mitigate that harm.”
The groups believe both the Yukon and Northwest Territories governments have been competing to make their territory more attractive to developers. Instead, the groups believe the territorial governments should insist on minimum requirements for any development.
Among the key principles being promoted include American protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (a crucial calving ground for the porcupine caribou, an essential resource for aboriginal peoples in northern Canada) and commitment to meaningful global warming measures, because the effects of global warming are well-documented in northern Canada.
“We appreciate that the current international atmosphere is making America look closer to home for energy supplies,” said Pete Ewins, director of World Wildlife Fund Canada’s Arctic Program. “Unfortunately, it appears that certain American politicians are using the tragedy in their country to push their agendas on opening up the Arctic for oil and gas development. We must be careful to ensure that our sympathy for the American people at this time does not translate into making decisions on the environment that we’d regret later.”
The groups are concerned about the potential sacrifice of the largest inhabited wilderness areas left on earth in exchange for a short term supply of natural gas and oil.
Other principles being put forth are:
- Development must be preceded by proper land use and conservation planning, including the completion of a “protected areas” network for both territories.
- Fair return and distribution of fees and royalties. If oil and gas development takes place, a proportion of revenues should be set aside for economic diversification projects, wildlife conservation, and projects that support sustainable energy for northern communities.
- Development should undergo rigorous review, including meaningful intervener funding to ensure that northerners can fully participate.
The principles are being forwarded to the federal government, both territorial governments, aboriginal governments, and potential producers and developers.