Mackenzie Valley gas pains

Two years ago, I edited a documentary for Les Productions Rivard here in Winnipeg. The English title is One River, Two Shores: Reflections on the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline (in French, the more awkward Au pays du fleuve Mackenzie, Un gazoduc au coeur d’un peuple) and it was directed by Yellowknife resident France Benoit. Over the period of a year, France visited people living along the route of the proposed natural gas pipeline which Imperial Oil and a consortium of partners want to build from the Mackenzie Delta down to Northern Alberta, getting a sense of the land and the cultures which inhabit it, and the conflicts arising from the prospect of “development”. This is a vast industrial project which would be imposed on a very sensitive ecosystem, bringing massive social and environmental changes at a time when climate change is already wreaking havoc in the North.

After decades of delays, studies, disputes, more studies and more delays, it appears that the Canadian Government is finally approving the project. But, as France points out in a recent email, the National Energy Board turned in a superficial final report recommending that approval, while the commission tasked with studying the social, environmental and economic impacts of the proposed pipeline “said that if this project is to make a positive impact to the North, we have 176 recommendations that MUST ALL be put in place before the project begins.” The government apparently has accepted 18 of those recommendations and dismissed the rest with an acknowledgement that they “liked the intent”. But, of course, development must go ahead, regardless of the consequences.

The real absurdity of this whole thing is that most of the gas to be extracted from the Mackenzie Delta will be destined for use in the Northern Alberta tar sands – in other words, one environment will be ravaged to produce energy in order for another environment to be further ravaged in the production of even dirtier energy. In our obsession with finding some kind of oil anywhere we can, we end up depleting other resources (including in this case the freshwater supply in the North), endlessly escalating the environmental damage. Of course, once all the oil is finally used up (and many experts agree that we have already passed “peak oil” and there’s going to be a diminishing supply from here on), these corporations and the politicians who enable them will no doubt finally look around and start to think that maybe they should come up with some other ideas. By which time it’ll probably be too late to do anything meaningful about the damage that’s been done.

Check out Chris Smith’s documentary Collapse for a chilling look at what we’re probably facing, and Peter Mettler’s Petropolis for a look at what’s already being done to Alberta.


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