Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mackenzie Valley Pipeline

Back in 1980 when I worked as a custodian in the Alberta Legislature I cleaned Premier Peter Lougheeds offices which included the Sanctum Sanctorum the inner cabinet room. On the wall was a large geophysical map of Alberta and Northern Canada showing the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline project, the jewel in the Alberta Crown of Oil resource development.

It was to be the second greatest pipeline debate in Canadian history, and the second one to challenge the ruling Liberal party of the day.

Back then the Pipeline was projected to cost the same as it is today. The cost in the 1970’s was estimated at 8 billion dollars.

But it was halted at that time by Justice Berger. It was the real nail in the coffin of the NEP. Subsequently the petro-economy went through a tail spin downward in the 1980's allowing for the pipeline which was put on hold to be forgotten, and in the intervening years new deals were struck with Northern communities and peoples for self government as Berger had recommended.

With the oil boom of the 1990's the Mackenzie and Alaskan Pipelines became economically viable once again.

The proposed gas pipeline from the Beaufort Sea to markets in southern Canada and the United States was billed in the 1970s as "the biggest project in the history of free enterprise."

Mr. Justice Thomas Berger

It was up to a Canadian judge, Mr. Justice Thomas Berger of British Columbia, to examine the impact of the pipeline on the people who lived in its path. Berger took to the job so thoroughly that some said he ran off with the terms of reference that established what was formally known as The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, embarrassing the Liberal government that appointed him.

On May 9, 1977, Berger's report was released in Ottawa. Significantly, Berger titled his report Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland, for above all he wanted the world to know that though the Mackenzie Valley may be the route for the biggest project in the history of free enterprise, people also live there.

Berger warned that any gas pipeline would be followed by an oil pipeline, that the infrastructure supporting this "energy corridor" would be enormous - roads, airports, maintenance bases, new towns - with an impact on the people, animals and land equivalent to building a railway across Canada. Some dismissed the impact of a pipeline, saying it would be like a thread stretched across a football field. Those close to the land said the impact would be more like a razor slash across the Mona Lisa.

The hard news of May 9, 1977, was Berger's recommendation that any pipeline development along the Mackenzie River Valley be delayed 10 years, and that no pipeline ever be built across the northern Yukon. The pipeline was delayed far longer than 10 years.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in a gas pipeline up the Mackenzie Valley, and many of those now pushing for the pipeline were the young radicals who opposed it with such vehemence 25 years ago.

With the war in Afghanistan and Iraq reducing oil capacity, and with projected peak oil reserves waining by 2020 the new gold rush in oil was being pushed by the US. With their eyes on the prize of Alaskan Oil the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline once again became an economically viable alternative to the Alaskan Pipeline.

In 2001 the Mackenzie Valley pipeline was projected to cost between $2-3 billion. In 2002 it was estimated to cost between $3 billion and $4 Billion. In 2005 estimates for construction were double that of 2001; $5 Billion. In 2006 the total cost was expected to be $7 billion.

Basically the cost estimates jumped a $1 Billion annually then suddenly this year
it is quadruple the cost, it is estimated to cost $16.2 Billion.

New estimates of overall costs for the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline project have hit $16.2 billion, from an original $4 billion, Imperial revealed before stock markets opened early Monday.

The massive project's in-service date was also rescheduled to 2014, three years past original estimates, due to significant delays in regional permits and approval.

CALGARY/AM770CHQR - Jim Prentice, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development says, somehow, the Mackenzie Valley pipeline will be built.
Imperial Oil says it will cost a whopping $16.2 billion.
Prentice says, however, the project is a key piece of oil and gas infrastructure.

"We'll be studying the information and I will be proceeding to cabinet to examine alternatives and options. But this is a very important piece of infrastructure that we are committed to."

And Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources, echos Prentice saying the federal government will do anything it can to help support this project, within limits.
Both Lunn and Prentice were in Calgary Monday.

However this is the total cost of the pipeline operations including finding oil fields. The actual pipeline cost remains $7.8 billion.

In other words one billion more than 2006, which is in line with the annual cost increases predicted by Imperial Oil which calculated that the pipeline could cost up to $10 billion when the project first came on line.

The original opposition to the Pipeline was over Native Rights and self government, as well as its environmental impact.The first nations issue was resolved by the Berger commission and today the first nations are full partners in development.

The opposition now is by a few bands that do not have first nations status and the environmental lobby. But Berger addressed the environmental concerns in his report; . Berger sees no compelling environmental reasons why an energy transportation corridor could not be established along the Mackenzie Valley. That development is being challenged by environmental groups because they see the pristine north as wilderness, now threatened with development. They want NO development in the North.

Most Canadians have never seen it. But it is perhaps our nation’s most treasured natural feature...the Mackenzie River.

The entire Mackenzie Valley is now threatened by Canada’s biggest natural gas pipeline project ever. The Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP), likely to cost at least CDN $7 billion, includes three major natural gas production fields north of Inuvik and two underground natural gas pipelines (the longest is 1,220 km) to carry the gas south along the Mackenzie Valley to northern Alberta. Other pipelines would be built connecting other gas fields to the main pipelines.

  • If it proceeds, this mega-project will trigger the transformation of the Mackenzie Valley from largely intact wilderness to industrial landscape. The environmental impact would be massive.

  • It will fragment habitat for bears, caribou and wolves.

  • It will harm fish and fish habitat by increasing sediment deposition into the rivers and streams of the valley from constructing pipeline crossings.

  • It will permanently damage important breeding or staging areas for millions of geese, tundra swans and other migratory birds. Read about the Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

  • It will cause forests to be clear cut and heavy machinery deployed to construct the infrastructure and the new underground pipelines which would tunnel under or cross 580 rivers and streams along the way.

  • It will trigger a rush of oil and gas development in the Mackenzie Valley, which would accelerate further damage to wildlife and ecosystems.

  • It will increase greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels by heavy equipment and from the cutting of boreal forests, destruction of wetlands, and melting of permafrost.

  • It will accelerate climate change in the Mackenzie Valley. Even now, thawing permafrost is collapsing roads and buildings. Warmer, drier summers are causing the worst forest fires ever. Infestations of southern insects, especially the spruce budworm, are likely. Depletion of Arctic sea ice will likely push polar bears, walrus and some seals into extinction within 50 years.

  • The old alliance between first nations and environmentalists is now broken, and development of the North becomes the economic life blood for Northerners especially because of climate change.

    It was, in fact, just a matter of time before this modern version of the Gold Rush resumed in earnest. The prize is simply too alluring. The National Energy Board estimates there are nine trillion cubic feet of discovered natural gas reserves in the Mackenzie Delta - and at least another 55 trillion yet to be found. In sheer volume, that would amount to more than a third of the known reserves in the more traditional gas fields of Alberta. To the west of the delta, at Prudhoe Bay, there are proven gas reserves of 30 trillion cubic feet and estimated total reserves of more than 100 trillion. Northern Alaska is already a significant oil-producing area, generating over one million barrels per day, which is piped south across Alaska and then put on tanker ships.

    The opening up of the arctic due to global warming means once hard to access oil, gas, coal, uranium and other mineral deposits become economically feasible.

    A proposed Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline is still before the regulators and it's already creating massive new plans for industrial development in the Arctic.

    Vancouver-based West Hawk Development (TSXV:WHD) has unveiled plans to strip-mine extensive coal reserves along the Mackenzie River and begin building $2 billion worth of coal gasification plants to tie into the pipeline within four years.

    "It's a property we're feeling very comfortable with in terms of generating natural gas from coal," West Hawk president Mark Hart said Monday.

    The west was opened up by the railway, the north will be opened up with pipelines and mining. The difference is that development will be ameliorated by environmental watchdogs, and by the Northerners themselves which did not exist when the railway opened the west and the great Buffalo slaughter happened.

    But already development and climate change have affected the peoples of the North and development of their resource base is crucial now to their survival.

    Until about seventy years ago, the native peoples of the far north relied on their skills as hunters to feed their families and were self-sufficient. With the extension of Canadian sovereignty northwards, the nomadic people were encouraged to gather in permanent settlements where they could be supplied from the south with food, education and medical care. Settlements, such as those in the Arctic Islands for instance, were often well north of natural food supplies, leaving the inhabitants dependent on a supply route from the south. While fresh food and lightweight goods can be brought in by air or by road, heavy freight such as fuel still depends on the barges that travel in the Mackenzie River during the short summer navigation season. This is a life critically dependent for the necessities of life on the continued availability of fossil fuels.

    It also offers an alternative to the Alaska pipeline, one that would destroy the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve, ANWR. Which puts environmentalists in a difficult position. Unless the oppose all development of the North. Which essentially they do.

    The proposed Alaska pipeline is estimated to cost roughly CDN $20 billion (US
    $16.16 billion)9. This is a higher cost than the proposed Mackenzie pipeline and has a
    number of stumbling blocks of its own. It also has a later estimated date for possible
    completion, somewhere around 2014 by optimistic estimates10. It connects to a different set of deposits than the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, as the Alaska line is intended to allow for shipment of the Prudhoe Bay gas. There have been suggestions that a smaller pipeline could be built between the Prudhoe Bay fields and the Mackenzie delta, to allow both deposits to be distributed through one pipeline.

    Those who dream of some idyllic past for Northerners and their land, the noble savage in the pristine wilderness, fail to understand the revolutionary nature of capitalism, which is to destroy all those village traditions and replace them with dependence on development and civilization.

    And they fail to understand that these people will not have a pristine wilderness to hunt and fish in given the changes happening in the Arctic thanks to global warming created by capitalism. Their survival is now to adapt to capitalism, not to hold back the development of the North. It is something they understand but Southern Environmentalists fail to. The reality of the North is that climate change is making development crucial to the survival of the peoples of the North, halting mega-projects like the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline will not stop climate change, but it will limit the survival of traditional communities now dependent on the South for food and fuel.

    In the end, large construction projects are an essential part of human civilization, they just have to be done right. A genuinely useful megaproject must arise out of any public planning process, in which the citizens of the region looked at the long-term needs and options and discussed what should be done. The hype surrounding megaproject proposals also serves as a convenient way to distract the public from the more day-to-day problems of society and government. Seriously addressing our state's shameful social problems requires fundamental questions about the way our society functions, the types of questions that politicians hate being asked.

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