Northwest Territories Looking to Bid for Pipelines

Lynsey Kitching

The enormous opposition to the potential pipelines (Enbridge and Trans-Canada) in BC has spurred the Northwest Territories (NWT) to speak up and offer a solution to Alberta’s dilemma of getting their resources to market.

David Ramsay, Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment for the NWT says, “If those opportunities don’t come for Alberta to the west coast, through a province like BC, we want to be seen as an option.”

Pipelines are nothing new to the territory having been transporting oil from Norman Wells since 1985.

Ramsay says, “That line isn’t full to capacity. We have what could become a very prolific shale oil plate in the Central Mackenzie valley with billions of barrels of oil, potentially, that we would like to get to market. We also have a very exciting opportunity in the offshore.

The NWT government is anxious to see the options put on the table and they have been discussing options with industry and the Alberta government.

Ramsay says, “We’re currently formalizing an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with Alberta, on working together on energy related issues. That would include the transportation of hydro-carbons, pipelines, and transmission lines for hydro-electricity projects. We do have resources here and we need to see them get developed in a sustainable manner.”

The building of a new pipeline through the NWT, the Yukon and then to Alaska for Ramsay would provide jobs and opportunities for the territory.

When asked how he thinks First Nation populations of the territory would response to the building of a pipeline Ramsay explains, “We have some real good precedent here in the NWT set by the Mackenzie gas project, the 1,200 km gas pipeline that was proposed to be built from the Mackenzie Delta, south to Alberta. That pipeline was to be and is proposed to be one-third owned by the aboriginal people of the NWT. It was a groundbreaking involvement of aboriginal people in that $17 billion project,” he continues, “Our belief is if there are other pipelines proposed or discussed, aboriginal people here in the NWT would certainly want to see a similar type model developed that would see them become owners of the pipeline.”

Ramsay notes these projects have no chance without the support of the aboriginal people.

On top of having discussions with Alberta, Ramsay has also been in talks with governor Sean Parnell in Alaska and says, “Obviously the Yukon does have oil and gas potential. A pipeline going through the Yukon, I think the Yukon government would be serious in talking to us about that and is interested in talking about that. We hope to continue to talk about opportunities to work together. It’s a discussion we need to have. We’ve committed to working with the Yukon on a number of other things and I’m sure pipelines are something we could discuss and come forward with a common plan.”

Another option for getting the Alberta resources to market is by tapping into the existing pipelines. Ramsay says, “If you look at the TAPS [Trans-Alaska Pipeline System] line in Alaska, I don’t think it’s even at 20 percent capacity. There is a lot of room in that line. For us, if we could get Alberta’s oil, our oil, if there’s oil that can be put into commercial production in the Yukon, we would look at getting it to the Trans-Alaska pipeline and all of a sudden it’s down to tidewater and onto tankers. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities.”

These ideas are still pipe dreams, and Ramsay says there is still a lot of environmental and regulatory process that would need to be undertaken for something like that to happen.

With Enbridge taking so much heat in terms of the potential risks of their pipeline in BC, the question must be asked if the NWT would be looking to work with them. Ramsay answers, “I know Enbridge has a number of balls in the air, as does Trans-Canada. Whether it’s one of those two companies or another one, maybe there is somebody else out there. We’re obviously interested in talking to people. We will continue to propose that we be considered as an option and continue to move the ball forward.”

However there will be no balls rolling unless the pipeline from Alberta can also be used to transport the resources from the NWT as well. Ramsay says, “That would be our goal, it would be a win-win situation for us. We would get Alberta oil to market; we would get our own oil to market. You would see resources developed in the Yukon and it would go into Alaska. That is the only way this is going to work is through co-operation through jurisdictions and again it has to be a win-win. You aren’t just going to run an oil pipeline down the Mackenzie valley and not expect to put oil in it. That is what we would hope to see happen, that is why we are having this discussion.”