An intriguing idea being floated around in the inner circles suggests the natural gas fields of the Beaufort and Mackenzie Deltas could be a long-term source of income for the region, but the strange way the report is being handled raises some eyebrows.
In this week’s edition, we discuss two separate plans for the vast reserves of natural gas in the Delta. The first, as previously reported on in this paper, is the TUK M-18 natural gas well, currently before the Canada Energy Regulator for a decision. If the plan goes forward, a liquefied natural gas plant will be built near the old well to provide LNG for heating throughout the Delta by way of trucks.
A second, seemingly parallel plan to explore the feasibility of using Russian-made LNG icebreakers to ship natural gas from the Delta to markets abroad, has recently completed a feasibility study which we don’t get to see until the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation gets a first look. The explanation given by both Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Caroline Wawzonek and GNWT Oil and Gas is that since a chunk of potential activity would occur in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, the Inuvialuit should get the first look at whether the report says the idea is a good one or not.
A case can be made for withholding information from the public if there is sensitive or potentially damaging information in the report, or inside information that could affect markets, or if the information reveals private details of peoples lives that aren’t relevant to the question at hand. This situation falls into none of those scenarios.
Exactly what is to be gained by not letting the people of the Beaufort Delta see this information the same time as the upper management of the IRC is a mystery. At best, the decision has a feeling of “need to know” attached to it, which we are fully within our rights to question.
We know the study looks at the technology and infrastructure available and what would need to be done to turn the Delta into a viable natural gas exporter. This could be a game-changer for the region. Exporting large sums of natural gas would require massive investments in infrastructure, ranging from deep water ports and harbours to improved roadways. The lower carbon count of natural gas would dramatically reduce the need for diesel in the North and around the Arctic and unlike oil or coal, natural gas will likely remain fairly reliable market for the next century. Certainly the boom/bust cycles of natural gas are nowhere near as extreme as they are with crude oil and the cash windfall could be put towards more renewable infrastructure to aid in the transition.
Certainly the ISR strives for a good balance between economic growth and environmental concerns — the impact of ships moving through beluga whale territory comes up in just about every document related to industry in the Beaufort Delta, so it stands to reason any export industry would be expected to work around their cetacean neighbours.
While the GNWT should be commended for its commitment to respecting nation-to-nation dialogue, there are other stakeholders in this besides the Inuvialuit. Those stakeholders have a right to know what is being proposed. Those holding the report should release it.