Canada faces energy war with U.S. : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

December 16, 2000

Canada faces energy war with U.S. Ottawa worries about pollution and caribou herd: Bush wants to end 40-year moratorium on drilling in wild Alaska's 'biological heart'

Alan Toulin, with files from Chris Wattie and Michael Higgins National Post OTTAWA - The Canadian government has vowed to oppose plans by President-elect George W. Bush to allow oil development in an Alaskan wildlife preserve.

The Yukon government, environmentalists and native groups are also preparing for a cross-border battle over possible oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which borders the Yukon.

Mr. Bush, who will be sworn in on Jan. 20, has promised to open up the preserve to oil companies, prompting fears that breeding grounds for caribou that migrate into Canada will be destroyed and the fragile Arctic environment will face devastating pollution.

Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, has consistently opposed opening up the wildlife preserve.

And yesterday, Marie-Christine Lilkoff, spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, said: "Canada will continue to advocate the permanent protection of those critical calving grounds ... to Congress and the new administration.

"We're currently working to communicate the Canadian position to the new administration."

Pat Duncan, the Yukon Premier, said her government is also opposed to drilling in the wildlife refuge.

"We have ... expressed our opposition to development of Alaska wildlife lands," Ms. Duncan said.

The disputed area is on the coastal plain of the wildlife refuge. The area is a 15-to-65-kilometre-wide strip of land between Alaska's northern mountains and the Beaufort Sea.

The wildlife refuge is home to 129,000 caribou, 300,000 snow geese and an uncounted number of polar bears.

The area is a calving ground for a caribou herd that criss-crosses Alaska and Yukon and it is also sacred ground for aboriginal groups, Ms. Duncan said.

It might also contain vast amounts of oil beneath its ice, snow and tundra. The oil industry wants to drill at what wildlife experts call the refuge's "biological heart," an area that has been closed to oil operations since the refuge was established in 1960.

Companies have been allowed to explore and drill elsewhere in the range under federally issued leases and the Yukon Premier acknowledged the proposal to develop the wildlife lands has divided Alaskans.

Almost all of the 238 residents of the village of Kaktovik, most of them Inupiat Eskimos, support the oil development for the economic benefits it could bring their isolated community, where unemployment is about 30%.

Environmentalists and the Gwich'in Indians, who have members on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, have pledged to renew efforts to oppose drilling.

Joe Foy, director of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, said Ottawa must stand up to the U.S. government and insist drilling in the refuge be banned.

"This has been a longstanding issue and there should be no co-operation between the two governments," Mr. Foy said. "There is no way that the oil and gas powers should be allowed to have their way.

"This is a global treasure that needs protecting."

Mr. Bush has proposed a continental energy policy that would see Canada and Mexico supply the United States with more natural gas and oil. The policy is seen as a way of weaning the United States from dependence on energy from hostile countries such as Iraq.

He has promoted the energy policy as a cornerstone of U.S foreign policy and, with his elevation to the presidency, Canada's energy sector believes there will be an accelerated drive to build pipelines in Alaska and Canada to carry natural gas to the United States.

During the presidential election, Mr. Bush made energy a centrepiece of his campaign against Al Gore, the U.S. Vice President. Mr. Gore opposed opening up the Alaska wildlife refuge.

"The U.S. must develop policies and strategies to support the increasing cross-border flows of oil, natural gas and electricity within North America," Mr. Bush said in an outline of his energy policies. "For example, Canada and the U.S. could work together to streamline permitting [pipelines] so that a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the Midwest could be built."

The Yukon government is opposed to the idea of running an offshore pipeline along the Arctic coast to connect Alaskan gas to a future pipeline in Canada. Gas produced in Alaska's Arctic coastal areas has until now been stored because there has been no way to transport it south.

However, energy companies are gearing up for major investments in pipelines in the years ahead, said David MacInnis of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

"If we see Alaskan gas come online, then expect to see a drive for Mackenzie Valley gas and Yukon gas. The issue for the Canadian government is to figure out what pipeline routes make the most sense," said Mr. MacInnis.

A detailed study of developing Canada's high arctic resources more than a decade ago concluded that development should not proceed in the face of the opposition of aboriginal groups and others.

But Mr. MacInnis said the political climate has changed. "In [the Northwest Territories], the First Nations people are just avid backers [of a Mackenzie Valley pipeline]."

Stephen Kakfwi, the Premier of the Northwest Territories, said, "We believe the Mackenzie Valley pipeline is ultimately the most attractive solution when considering the environmental impact and the cost of getting gas from Alaska to the southern states."

-- Martin Thompson (, December 16, 2000

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