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Environmentalists Air Warnings about Arctic Pipeline

by Gordon Jaremko  Canada National Post  February 26, 2007

Environmentalists will square off against the Arctic pipeline today, saying the 70,000 Alberta jobs its construction is forecast to support should be created by other, cleaner energy projects.

"The northern wilderness could disappear," Tine Steen-Dekker says in a written statement to public hearings set to be held in Edmonton today.

"Canada would not be Canada any longer," says the veteran of work in Labrador and northern Alberta aboriginal communities.

Her warning puts in a nutshell the majority feeling of 27 groups and personal interveners registered to speak at the hearings, which are being held in Edmonton by the federal, Northwest Territories and aboriginal Joint Review Panel on the Mackenzie Gas Project.

Helene Walsh of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's northern Alberta chapter, said in a written brief: "Now that global climate change has finally been recognized as a serious problem that must be dealt with, this proposed project is clearly a step backward,"

"The money and resources that would be needed for this project should be diverted into the production of renewables," writes Walsh, director of the society's boreal forest preservation campaign.

David Parker, of the Edmonton Friends of the North Environmental Society, portrayed the proposed Mackenzie Delta production wells and 1,200-kilometre Mackenzie Valley pipeline as a "brutal" threat.

He rejects industry supporters who say the proposed pipeline is to vast northern Canada as a thread is to a football field. The project is "more like a razor slash across the Mona Lisa," Parker writes.

An Arctic gas pipeline would be vulnerable to vandalism, impossible to police, a target for international terrorism, and a destroyer of communities akin to industrial exploitation of Nigeria and Siberia, he adds.

The Sierra Club of Canada says the Mackenzie project contributes to "catastrophic risks" posed by global warming. New hazards from melting ice roads to flooded wildlife habitat threaten all northern life, the conservationists warn.

"Approval of the Mackenzie Gas Project as currently proposed would commit northwestern Canada to an unsustainable future dominated by the overarching imperative to produce fossil fuels for export," the Sierra Club predicts.

The panel will hear a consensus of environmental critics that the Arctic gas plan would chiefly fuel Alberta oilsands projects, wasting the resource and emitting million-tonne clouds of carbon dioxide.

Environmentalist demands include a prohibition, if the pipeline is approved, against use of northern gas in bitumen extraction and upgrading.

There are also appeals to look after northern aboriginal communities by raising gas royalties and saving them up in a "permanent fund" akin to Alaska and Alberta nest eggs for energy revenue surpluses.

The review panel can recommend project approval conditions. Decisions are up to the National Energy Board.

The NEB has finished a year of roving hearings that did not venture south of the Northwest Territories. Today's Edmonton session is the review panel's second Alberta appearance. In High Level last summer the panel heard regional native and environmental grievances.

After 14 months of often critical and sometimes heated panel sessions, Mackenzie project leader Imperial Oil shows no signs of being ruffled by the Edmonton outpouring of protest.

"Most environmental effects will occur during construction but will be managed so that they are localized and short-term," Imperial says in its opening statement for today's event.

Company representatives attend every panel hearing to describe the project and answer questions.

Company representatives attend every panel hearing to describe the project and answer questions.

"Project effects on air, water, land, fish or wildlife will not last a long time or affect a large area," Imperial predicts.

But for the three-year duration of the mammoth construction effort, effects on the Alberta economy are forecast to be large.

The project expects to spend $3.1 billion on Alberta supplies and services. The money is forecast to create more than 70,000 jobs and $2.6 billion in wages in fields from "direct" employment welding pipe to "induced" work, such as selling boots to construction tradesmen.

Southern environmental criticism has yet to erode support for the gas project by its northern aboriginal part owners including the Inuvialuit, Gwich'in and Sahtu Dene of the Mackenzie Delta and central Mackenzie Valley.

At recent "socio-cultural impacts" hearings in Inuvik, the Gwich'in Tribal Council assured the review panel that northern communities most affected by the development plan can take care of themselves.

"Gwich'in has invested a great deal of time and effort to ensure we are ready to be full participants in the Mackenzie Gas Project," the council said. "We feel we can manage our own affairs and have set out a plan to do so. We understand how we can use the tools provided to us."

Source: Canada National Post

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