Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Review panel hears final recommendations on Mackenzie pipeline

Review panel hears final recommendations on Mackenzie pipeline
The Canadian Press
November 6, 2007

In two years of hearings in 26 northern communities, a panel reviewing the potential environmental and social impacts of a $16-billion natural gas pipeline down the Mackenzie Valley took in enough submissions to block a herd of caribou.

The panel begins hearing final recommendations today and concerns registered by everyone from government scientists to native hunters have been remarkably consistent: Protect special areas, prepare for a development boom, make sure climate change doesn't make the pipeline unsafe and monitor whatever changes it brings.

"A network of culturally and ecologically representative protected areas must be reserved prior to development," says a presentation from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

The Gwich'in Tribal Council, through whose land the 1,200-kilometre pipeline is slated to run, pleads for foresight in managing new energy exploration the pipeline would be likely to create.

Environment Canada is warning that polar bears and marine mammals such as beluga whales might suffer if a plan isn't created to deal with development caused by the pipeline.

Those are three of the recommendations the seven-member panel will have to consider.

Two dozen groups are scheduled to speak beginning today and going to Thursday. Their goal is to sum up the testimony of uncounted hours spent in community halls and meeting rooms from Sachs Harbour on Banks Island to Edmonton. Transcripts from the meetings run to hundreds of thousands of pages.

The stakes couldn't be higher.

On the one hand, pipeline supporters point to jobs and business opportunities the project would probably bring.

Others point to the damage the project could do to one of the Earth's last great wildernesses.

There are other concerns.

Federal scientists worry that pipeline engineers haven't accounted for the effect that melting permafrost would have on the line's durability and safety.

Native groups such as the Deh Cho in the southern section of the route have already insisted that progress must be made on their land claim before any pipeline runs through their territory.

Environmentalists such as Chuck Birchall of the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee say this week's hearings offer the last hope to convince the panel that the pipeline's future consequences must play a role in its decisions.

"You've got to do a proper cumulative-effects assessment," he said. "If you don't do it for this project, when would you do it?"

After this week, the panel meets one more time at the end of the month to hear closing remarks. It is expected to deliver its report in mid-2008.


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