Vol. 26, No.2 Week of January 10, 2021
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

No quit in A2A plan

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Proponents prepare to submit notice of intent for Alaska-to-Alberta railroad

Gary Park

for Petroleum News

With little fanfare, leaders of the Alaska-to-Alberta Railway Development Corp., A2A, continue across a broad front to assemble the pieces needed to submit the formal notice of intent for their planned massive transportation link to regulatory agencies in the U.S. and Canada.

Watched over by some doubters and coupled with strong hints from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that he is ready to use existing legislation to block the US$17 billion project, A2A has embarked on “informal discussions” to head off objections before it embarks on the permitting process.

Currently, A2A is pushing ahead with surveying along the 1,600-mile route, holding talks with Native and Tribal landowners in Alaska and Indigenous and Metis communities in Canada, and working with Alaska Railroad to identify a corridor.

Discussions underway in Alaska

Mead Treadwell, vice chair, Alaska, for A2A told Petroleum News that discussions are underway with Native and private landowners to “ensure that filings for public land adjacent to their lands do not catch them by surprise.”

“Our engagement process with these entities and private landowners along the route is moving along, though somewhat hampered by the restrictions of COVID-19.”

He said work is also proceeding under A2A’s 2019 agreement with the Alaska Railroad relating to the 60% of the A2A route that traverses state-owned land.

Treadwell said the Alaska Department of Natural Resources has the authority to set aside state lands at the request of the Alaska Railroad and to transfer that land to the railroad after construction, when A2A would lease its corridor.

In the U.S. agencies would compile an environmental impact statement before major permits were issued by the Surface Transportation Board, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others, he said.

Treadwell said progress is being made with affected landowners, communities and ports in Alaska, the Alaska Railroad and federal and state regulators, while a study is underway on the economics of a spur line to Valdez.

Parallel effort in Canada

The parallel effort in Canada involves developing a detailed proposal with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, IAAC, including regional studies in Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Yukon “so we can identify and fill gaps before the permitting process goes forward,” Treadwell said.

He noted that A2A has, over the last four years, briefed the Prime Minister’s Privy Council (which advises the government on implementing its visions, goals and decisions), Members of Parliament and relevant government agencies. That work has gathered pace in the last three months since President Donald Trump issued a border-crossing presidential permit.

But for now, Trudeau shows a reluctance to budge from his stance on A2A, warning proponents against moving too far on procurement and investment for “something that is unlikely to pass.”

In early December he was pressed by Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole to give a definitive answer on whether the federal government would support the rail link.

Trudeau would only say his government would “look” at a detailed proposal, which Treadwell said will be available when A2A delivers a proposal to the IAAC for a project that “fits several major Trudeau administration goals as we understand them.”

That list includes Indigenous reconciliation and economic diversification, development of the Northwest corridor and helping Canada’s goods and resources become more competitive in Pacific markets.

To that end, A2A “would support Trudeau’s trade efforts in the Indo-Pacific region as far away as India,” Treadwell said.

Bill C-69

Trudeau’s apparent hard line on A2A stems partly from Bill C-69 - dubbed by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney as the “no more pipelines bill” - which sets up a new authority to assess major infrastructure projects such as pipelines, mines and highways, based on their impact on human health, the environment and local communities.

Treadwell said that under Bill C-69 it is clear that Trudeau and his cabinet can stop a project, but he also believes that if A2A follows the assessment process “properly and thoroughly” Bill C-69 should not be a “game breaker.”

“I do not believe the (Bill C-69) authority will be necessary or appropriate,” he said.

Treadwell said the proposed railroad is a multi-commodity link to “bring goods in and out of North America via a more efficient transportation route. It will support major growth in the Gross Domestic Product of the regions it passes through,” by reducing shipping times across the Pacific by two to four days.

Writing in the Globe and Mail, J.P. Gladu, A2A’s Canadian president, said the project is “designed to end the economic isolation of the Northwest, create a shipping and development corridor to connect North American and Asian markets and to bring about transformative change to communities along the railway route.”

He said the founders have set a target of 49% Indigenous ownership, building in direct Indigenous representation on the board of directors, establishing commercial partnerships with Indigenous companies, offering training and employment programs and aggressively investigating economic opportunities available in the Northwest.

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