For Immediate Release
Jan 13, 2010

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Mackenzie Gas Project hearings welcomed


Environmental and social justice groups are welcoming the start of National Energy Board (NEB) hearings today that will determine if construction of the Mackenzie Gas Project is in Canada’s public interest.

“As an independent quasi-judicial body, the NEB can be expected to carefully review the scientific and technical evidence to determine whether the underground pipelines can be built and operated safely in permafrost environments as rapid climate change warms the North” said Stephen Hazell, conservation director of Sierra Club of Canada. “The NEB will consider whether the negative impacts on northern ecology and society of this $7.5 billion mega project exceed the benefits.”

“Thirty years ago, the Berger Commission heard directly from our people about the potential impacts of this proposal. Berger concluded that the social impacts of this proposal on Aboriginal people would be devastating, while the economic benefits would be limited.” noted Stephen Kakfwi, former Premier of the NWT. “There are no guarantees that things are going to be different this time around. We are still fighting to preserve our lands, our heritage, and our future as Aboriginal peoples. Economic development has a place, but only on our terms. There must be careful planning to ensure that the land is protected first. There must be full consideration of whether we are in fact any more prepared for this project today than we were 30 years ago. It will be essential for the NEB to hear directly from Aboriginal people, and to carefully consider whether our concerns have been addressed.”

“While a separate Joint Review Panel will conduct its own hearings starting in February to assess the environmental effects of the MGP, and then report with recommendations to the NEB by next winter, the NEB will make the final decisions about how to protect the Mackenzie’s natural areas and cultural and ecological values if the MGP proceeds.” said Pete Ewins, Conservation Director at WWF-Canada. “For a nation such as Canada with so many strong public commitments to sustainability, a fundamental condition of any pipeline approval must be that land use plans be completed first. This would allow communities to protect a comprehensive regional network of special cultural and wildlife areas under the NWT Protected Areas Strategy before any major construction is completed.”

Charles Birchall, chair of the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, said, “CARC’s mapping has shown northerners the potential impact of the choices they will make. We have shown that under some pipeline development scenarios, the land in some regions would be degraded to the extent that it could no longer support important wildlife species, such as caribou. Northerners, and the NEB, need to take this information into account to help guide their choices.”

“If the MGP proceeds it will open up the North to full scale oil and gas development,” said Ellen Francis of the Pembina Institute. “A reasonable estimate of the additional new wells, roads, camps, and gathering system pipelines should be tabled. Decision makers should look at a cumulative impact assessment of this full development scenario before ruling on whether or not the mitigation measures are adequate and the impacts acceptable.”

“The NEB must examine very carefully the triggering effect of MGP on other natural gas and oil developments,” said Julie Gelfand, president of Nature Canada. “So far, the environmental assessment has been inadequate in measuring the full impact of the project on the lands, water and wildlife of small communities like Colville Lake, which will be overwhelmed by hydrocarbon exploration and development once the MGP is approved, or important bird habitat like the Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, which would be permanently damaged.”

Sierra Legal Defence Fund is representing World Wildlife Fund Canada and Sierra Club of Canada at the NEB and Joint Review Panel hearings, and is providing assistance to other intervenors.