A number of Northern aboriginal leaders asked the National Energy Board to approve the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project as final hearings into the 1,200-kilometer long natural gas pipeline wrapped up last week in Inuvik.
Aboriginal Pipeline Group (APG) chair Fred Carmichael testified on April 20 at the Midnight Sun Recreation Complex and said the project would bring numerous benefits to communities along its route, including quality education, training, employment and business opportunities.
“We have waited a long time for this day,” he said. “We have listened to our Elders; we have listened to our people. We have listened to governments, environmentalists and therefore we are here today calling on you to approve this project as soon as possible and to help us move forward with our plan to regain socio-economic self-sufficiency for our people today and for our future generations.”
While Gwich’in Tribal Council president Richard Nerysoo asked the NEB to approve the project, he suggested they do so on the basis of a number of recommendations. Nerysoo suggested the NEB require the proponents to commence construction within three years being granted a certificate to construct the pipeline and that the pipeline be open to all shippers – not just the proponents.
The MGP is “critical” to aboriginal self-determination and self-sufficiency, Nerysoo told the board.
“For the Aboriginal people of the Northwest Territories, the Mackenzie Gas Project can represent one project that can contribute to creating a sustainable economy in the North, especially within the Dehcho, the Sahtu and Mackenzie Delta region,” he said during his testimony. “National, provincial and local leaders throughout Canada should realize that the project will provide economic benefits ranging from purchases of supplies and materials from businesses across the country to creating jobs in every province or territory, and increase the flow of royalties, revenues and taxes to all levels of government.”
Former NWT premier Nelli Cournoyea also threw her support behind the project, saying it would open up the Beaufort Delta’s “economic potential.” She asked the NEB not to allow the Dehcho First Nations to put “impediments” in the way of the $16.2 billion pipeline.
During testimony on April 15 in Yellowknife, DFN Grand Chief Sam Gargan said the pipeline should not be built until the DFN had settled its land claim and land-use plans with the federal government.
Cournoyea, the CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, said the federal government could create a right-of-way so the pipeline could be approved while negotiations continue between the DFN and Canada.
“There’s a provision for that and that’s what they should do, and then the Dehcho can take years to settle their claim and do their land use plans so they can have all the time in the world,” she said. “But right now, you know, I don’t believe it’s in the Canadian interest that one group or part of one group can hold up the economic opportunities of a lot of other people and there has to be some clear decision, you know, because there is a provision and then just clearly define it and let’s get on with our life.”
Don Davies, a lawyer for Imperial Oil, said the proponents decision to ask the NEB to extend the sunset clause to December 2016 is not a delay tactic.
“They are requesting that date in order to reasonably manage uncertainty, and we continue to believe that the request is reasonable, notwithstanding the collective frustrations of all of us,” he said on Thursday.
Davies was the first to testify when the hearings began on April 12 in Yellowknife. He was the last to testify in Inuvik.
The decision of whether or not to approve the pipeline now sits with NEB panel chairman Kenneth Vollman, and panelists David Hamilton and Gaeton Caron. As the hearings wrapped up on Thursday, Vollman said the panel’s decision would be released by the fall.
“Now we have our work cut out for us. You can expect to receive our decision, with reasons, in September 2010.”