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Studying highway resources could bring economic boost

When the United States and Canada announced a joint, five-year moratorium on off-shore oil and gas drilling in Arctic waters last December, the countries' leaders hailed it as a move toward a “strong,” “viable” Arctic economy and ecosystem.

Their aim was to meet global climate goals while protecting Arctic life from environmental hazards such as oil spills.

Yet, in one of those Arctic communities – Inuvik – the economy was showing signs of stagnation, with some homes and a former hotel boarded up, and empty shop windows lining parts of the main strip.

While the town may not sit on the edge of the Arctic Ocean where this off-shore drilling is banned, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) decried what they called a lack of consultation over a policy that would affect them and which they have a right to be consulted about under their land claim agreement.

At the time, IRC president Duane Smith stated the corporation had been dealing with both on-shore and off-shore drilling in the region for five decades, but the federal government had not asked his opinion on the decision.

Luckily, the IRC hasn't given up hope of tapping into on-shore resources and, with that, boosting the local economy.

Last week, the Inuvik Drum reported the IRC is gathering proposals for a study that would look at the feasibility of harvesting and distributing gas along the nearly-complete Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway.

This research is a good thing. Not only is the new highway expected to draw more tourists (and their wallets) to the region, the study may also show it brings the prospect of homegrown jobs, cheaper energy and a chance to breathe more life into the local economy.

A 2015 report from the Town of Inuvik showed high utility costs and unemployment were some of the biggest challenges facing the community. According to the report, 17 businesses had disappeared from Inuvik within a five-year period from 2008 to 2013.

The effect on local organizations is evident, too. Earlier this year, the Inuvik Food Bank began charging clients a small fee for food, citing increasing costs.

At the time, Heather Wheating, chair of the Inuvik Food Bank, stated the organization was handing out an average of 100 flats of food per distribution, compared to just 30 flats five years ago.

With economic times being tough, it doesn't hurt to explore options.

According to Kate Darling, general counsel for the IRC, the corporation's study would look at the possibility of supplying gas from the region to residents of the region, which could limit Inuvik's reliance on southern fuel producers and create new jobs.

The study would first explore gas supplies in Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Inuvik, Tsiigehtchic and Tuktoyaktuk, and then some coastal communities, she said.

It would also be important to examine how the environment can be managed at the same time.

Although the possibility of harvesting gas along the highway isn't yet a sure thing, it's good to see the IRC exploring an opportunity that could make Inuvik more self-reliant when it comes to fuel and that could give the economy a push forward.