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Fracking drills up controversy in Sahtu
Critics start letter-writing campaign while MLA stands economic ground

Walter Strong
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 21 2014

Yellowknife-based Ecology North, Alternatives North and the Council of Canadians have asked those opposed to fracking in the Sahtu to begin a letter-writing campaign to the Sahtu Land and Water Board (SLWB) in favour of a full environmental assessment for Husky Energy's application to drill and frack four exploratory wells over two years.

NNSL photo/graphic

Husky Energy's Slater River camp is part of the energy company's work in the Sahtu. Proposed drilling over the next two years is supported by the Norman Wells Land Corporation. - NNSL file photo

But for many residents of the region, Husky's proposal - and the investment dollars it brings with it - are a boon.

"It's good for the region," said Sahtu MLA Norman Yakelaya. "It's good for the people and the businesses here."

Although Husky has not attached a dollar figure to what spending over the next two years could amount to, ConocoPhillips reported having spent more than $67 million during its five years of exploratory work in the region.

A March 25 internal email originating from the executive office of the ministry of Industry, Tourism, and Investment (ITI) highlighted the local economic activity stimulated by ConocoPhillips' work.

During the 2013/14 drilling season, more than $37 million was spent in the region. Of that, $17.2 million of direct expenditures went to aboriginal-owned businesses in the Tulita district, $97,000 was spent on training and $108,000 in community donations were made.

During that same period, approximately 200 workers were employed. Of those workers, 106 were NWT residents, of whom more than 65 workers were Sahtu beneficiaries.

During the previous 2012/13 season, the region saw $1.9 million in direct spending, with 36 of 37 contracts going to Tulita or Norman Wells businesses. Twenty-eight of those contracts were awarded to aboriginal-owned companies.

ConocoPhillips recently announced that it would suspend any drilling work this coming season.

"People need to look at the value of economic freedom in the Sahtu," Yakelaya said. "Anti-fracking groups that want to throw in a premature environmental assessment... are going to create economic dependency on the government by shutting down this opportunity for the Sahtu people."

The Norman Wells Land Corporation - representing participants in the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement - also formally supports Husky's application.

"The Sahtu has a regulatory system with regimes and mechanisms that mirror other regions in the North and in Canada," stated an April 16 Norman Wells Land Corporation press release. "We believe it is fully capable of assessing and examining development programs and proposals submitted before them without the guidance of interest groups."

Cece McCauley, NWLC president, said Husky's application before the SLWB to drill exploratory wells isn't a proposal to start producing oil, and shouldn't be treated as such.

"People (here) are going to want it to go ahead simply for the jobs," McCauley said. "We're in dire straits out here."

Previous to ConocoPhillips' successful application before the SLWB, Calgary energy junior MGM Energy had its application referred for a more stringent environmental assessment, effectively shutting down their proposal when financial backer Shell Canada refused to take on associated costs.

At the time, the SLWB explained their decision to approve ConocoPhillips' application and not MGM's as a function of the more complete and comprehensive application package ConocoPhillips had prepared for the board.

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