It’s easy to reach a conclusion that the Mackenzie Gas Project has been frozen in time as squabbling and court actions continue between the Deh Cho First Nations and the Canadian government.
But other issues are starting to bedevil the regulatory process, as residents of the Northwest Territories add to the list of concerns.
An official with the National Energy Board confirmed earlier in March in Yellowknife that public hearings will not start before the end of summer, well behind the possible spring start that the project backers had hoped for at one time.
On March 22, Canada’s energy regulator put out a revised timetable of dates covering the remaining phases of its technical review. Those new targets ranged from a few days to seven weeks behind the preliminary dates set early this year.
Other discontent is surfacing in the Northwest Territories as regulators lay groundwork for the public hearings and the project proponents start formal negotiations with aboriginals on land access and benefits agreements.
Northwest Territories representatives air concernsThe Northern Gas Project Secretariat, the Joint Review Panel and the North Energy Board — the key organizations leading regulatory and environmental reviews — held community meetings in Yellowknife, Meander River and Fort Simpson earlier in March.
It wasn’t all goodwill and harmony, as Kevin O’Reilly, research director with the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee and a Yellowknife city councilor, delivered a barbed comment at one of the organizers.
He suggested that next time a representative of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency should attend to answer questions about federal funding for interveners — a sore point with the community organizations.
The late-summer start of public hearings reflects the unhappiness among groups such as the Arctic resources committee over Imperial Oil’s initial filings on the environmental impact of the project.
Meanwhile, Imperial opened talks on March 14 with the Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake communities to seek agreement on the terms and conditions of pipeline construction in the Sahtu settlement area land covering a vast area in the Central Mackenzie Valley.
Talks on hold waiting fundingArthur Tobac, president of the K’ahsho Got’ine Land Corp., part of the Sahtu land, said he was ready to hold discussions, but was waiting for C$400,000 that the Canadian government had promised. Until that money arrived from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs his organization would “cease all activities with the Mackenzie Gas Project,” Tobac said.
While he waits, Tobac has appointed former Northwest Territories premier Stephen Kakfwi as lead negotiator for the K’ahsho Got’ine.
Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Andy Scott was the recipient of other northern frustrations at a town hall meeting in Yellowknife March 15.
He came under fire for naming Todd Burlingame as chairman of the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, passing over three nominations by board members.
Jane Groenewegen, a member of the Northwest Territories legislature, told Scott he had “made a mockery of our processes and you have insulted northerners.”
Scott, apparently flustered by the criticisms from 120 residents at the meeting, said it was important to fill a vacancy that occurred in the fall.
Otherwise, he suggested that reporters should confine their questions to his government’s northern strategy, which the residents welcomed provided it gave them more control over land for aboriginal and community governments and more involvement in resource development.
Kakfwi, a vigorous supporter of the current Mackenzie project but a key player in stalling the initial attempts to develop Canada’s Arctic gas in the 1970s, told Scott he does not like the notion that the devolution of power to the Northwest Territories “is being drafted in the bowels of government but I’m not engaged.”
He said the Akaitcho, Deh Cho and K’ahsho Got’ine all want to participate in developing the northern strategy.
The Akaitcho and Deh Cho are ready to take their fight to the courts unless they get assurances that the transfer of powers will not affect existing and future land treaties — a battle that could also spill over to the Mackenzie project.