A serious discussion needs to be had sooner than later on the future of resources in the territory.
With the Diavik diamond mine facing closure in 2025 and the Gahcho Kue diamond mine having only a little more than a decade of mine life remaining, that’s thousands of jobs wiped out.
Beyond mining, the territorial government has created a plan to capitalize on the NWT’s enormous volumes of oil and gas. While the GNWT’s Petroleum Resources Strategy wisely makes repeated references to working in partnership with Indigenous governments, it must amount to more than words on paper. Contained within the document, tabled in May, is this understatement:
“But while the NWT’s petroleum resources sector has long been an industry on the verge of becoming a powerful economic driver, it has, to date, never realized its potential.”
Norman Wells has flowed crude for several decades. The Beaufort Delta and Fort Liard saw temporary booms from natural gas. But this represents only a fraction of the NWT’s promise.
Possessing an estimated 37 percent of Canada’s marketable light crude oil and 35 percent of its marketable natural gas resources, the NWT is sitting on energy riches. That translates into potential for 1.2 billion barrels of conventional oil and 16.4 trillion cubic feet of “discovered and recoverable” conventional natural gas, according to National Energy Board estimates.
In a territory where 23 of the 33 communities rely on diesel fuel, which belches relatively high volumes of environmentally-damaging carbon, a pipeline in the territory could be one of the few ways we might effectively reduce carbon emissions. However, that comes with an acknowledgment that pipelines involve an element of risk. In April, 290,000 litres of oil and salt water leaked from a pipeline in Zama, Alta. Technology has made pipelines safer, but not foolproof.
The Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway has renewed interest in Beaufort Delta natural gas fields that could feed surrounding communities. That should jump start a renewed effort to tap into our abundant reserves, provide local energy for our communities and devise a pipeline plan that will bring handsome profits from shipments to the south.
We need to make sure we have our collective drill heads together to avoid suffering the same fate as communities in northern British Columbia, which suffered as a result of the Northern Gateway pipeline debacle.
This doesn’t mean renewable energy should go ignored. Hydro has proved to be extremely valuable to the NWT. It should be further developed in tandem with fossil fuels because neither can serve the territory’s needs alone.
The GNWT didn’t support the Northern Gateway or the Energy East pipelines, but threw its support behind the Trans Mountain line, which the courts rejected in August due to a lack of consultation with First Nations. However, it was announced last week that the National Energy Board is kicking off a new round of public hearings to be completed by Feb. 22, 2019, so Trans Mountain isn’t buried yet.
Premier Bob McLeod said in his keynote speech at the Arctic Oil and Gas Symposium that “we are faced with odds that a Vegas gambler might cringe at.”
We don’t need a crystal ball to see the potential that lies right beneath our feet.
With the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline consortium collapse and an unrealized potential after decades of planning, heated debate and regulatory proceedings, the government needs to work hard to create new resource development schemes. Part of that means completing final agreements in order to give ownership back to the Indigenous people of the North, so the territory is prepared when the right economic and regulatory conditions do come back around.