The Northwest Territories government has stalled a C$600 million power project to serve the Mackenzie Gas Project, while aboriginal leaders are joining forces to safeguard the quality of water in Northern and Western Canada.
Although the two developments are unrelated they represent strikes rather than hits in Canada’s northern resource development.
NWT Premier Joe Handley told the Sahtu General Assembly on Sept. 7 that plans to build a hydro dam on the Great Bear River and build transmission lines to deliver power to the Mackenzie pipeline and communities along the pipeline right of way is now on hold.
He said Mackenzie operator Imperial Oil was unwilling to sign a deal to buy the power — a decision Deline Land Corp. President Leroy Andre said indicates Imperial would rather burn its own natural gas to generate power than consider the hydro alternative.
He said Imperial does not seem concerned about whether hydro is cheaper or not.
“They don’t care who says what or when,” Andrew said.
The corporation is one of the governing bodies formed to administer the Sahtu land claim agreement.
Handley said the “timing may not be right … (but) this just isn’t a project we’re prepared to invest more money in right now.”
Water quality deterioratingThe gathering of 200 aboriginal leaders from the NWT, British Columbia and Alberta in Fort Simpson, NWT, spent three days tackling the challenge of deteriorating water quality and shrinking supplies — both of them linked to industrial development.
Key water sources are the Athabasca River, which flows 900 miles from the Canadian Rockies to Lake Athabasca in northeastern Alberta then continues another 1,200 miles on the Mackenzie and Slave rivers to the Arctic Ocean.
The Athabasca is already a major source of worry because of the demands placed on the river by the booming oil sands development, including industrial consumption and discharge.
The river level has been dropping and residents have been advised not to drink water straight from the source or eat fish from the river.
Pat Marcel, a tribal chairman from Fort Chipewyan in northeastern Alberta said governments that are more interested in collecting royalties and taxes have surrendered their control over rivers to industry.
Chief Roland Wilson of the West Moberly First Nation in British Columbia blamed the problems on the U.S. demand for Canadian energy supplies so that California can run air conditioning units around the clock while First Nations in northern Canada pay the environmental price.
The conference was hosted by Deh Cho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian, the most outspoken aboriginal critic of the Mackenzie project.
The leaders plan a follow-up conference in 2007 when they will invite industry and government to participate.