The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) held a public engagement session in Inuvik to discuss its proposed changes to the Petroleum Resources Act (PRA) and the Oil and Gas Operations Act (OGOA) on March 27.
Menzie McEachern, GNWT’s director of mineral and petroleum resources said the changes are meant to modernize the PRA and OGOA through three areas of focus.
The first area of proposed change is in transparency and accountability, as section 91 of the PRA makes it impossible for the GNWT to share information that is in the public interest.
“We’ve definitely heard from the public a desire to have access to more information… Building awareness of an industry means that people can understand it more, and it allows them to know who to contact with questions or ideas regarding their ideas,” McEachern said.
“We want to make more information publicly available related to the sector and related to oil and gas activity, both in terms of environmental information as well as tenure or rights information, as well as economic benefit information about the sector and its activities.”
The second area of proposed change is in modernizing the way that significant discoveries are handled because legislation governing these discoveries is outdated.
The main issue with current significant discovery legislation, according to McEachern, is that once a company has a significant discovery licence, they can hold that licence permanently, free of charge.
“There’s a risk there that companies will have control over a very large land area for a very long period of time and not develop and produce those resources for the benefit of the public,” he said. “We have heard that people have a strong interest in making sure the public resources do get produced to provide the benefits that people want so there are jobs, contracts and business opportunities.”
The final area of proposed changes deal with technical and administrative amendments, which McEachern says will increase the GNWT’s operating efficiency.
He added that the goal of the proposed changes is to ensure legislation works for Northerners.
Gerry Kisoun, an Inuvik community member who attended the engagement session, said he thinks meaningful consultation with communities who will be affected by proposed changes is important.
“Our people are going to be here long after many other people might be gone from here, and we’ll have to live with the changes made,” said Kisoun. “The people that are going to be affected need to be consulted.”
Kisoun added that he wants the GNWT to keep the environment in mind when making legislative change.
“I would like to see, with some of the changes that they’re trying to make, for them to keep the land as a part of it, you’ve got to keep the water as a part of it, you’ve got to keep the animals as a part of it,” said Kisoun. “You have to keep the whole ecosystem in mind.”
Kisoun said one change he would like to see is for the GNWT bring a natural gas well back to Inuvik.
“Right now, we’re paying a lot of money for our heating fuel for our homes. It’s really costly and some families are really hurting,” said Kisoun. “I’d like to see one of those wells open up, if we can do it in a way where it’s not going to be super expensive, and take care of the environment at the same time.”