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CALGARY HERALD: Ottawa offers $25M to Dene for pipeline

24 July 2007

Hurdles remain for natural gas project
LISA SCHMIDT CALGARY HERALD

Ottawa will pay $25 million to the Dene Tha’ First Nation to settle concerns over the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, but hurdles still remain for the natural gas project.

Under an agreement announced Monday, the Dene Tha’ will drop court action against the pipeline in exchange for the funding that will help address socio-economic impacts resulting from the pipeline.

The agreement also sets out a timeframe for the federal government’s review of the aboriginal band’s land claim and outlines how the group is to be consulted on the pipeline and future projects.

“We have generated greater certainty around the project — ensuring that if it is approved it may proceed unimpeded,” Jim Prentice, federal minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, said in a statement.

A Federal Court judge ruled in November that Ottawa failed to consult with the Dene Tha’ over the proposed pipeline, which would bring natural gas from the Arctic to southern markets.

A regulatory process that brought federal energy and environment officials together with aboriginal groups along the route was set up in 2002.

But the Dene Tha’, who number about 2,500 members on seven reserves in northwestern Alberta, northeastern British Columbia and the southern end of the Northwest Territories, were excluded from those discussions.

“The potential impact on our communities of big energy sector projects has been a concern for us in the past, and remains a concern with the Mackenzie project,” said Chief James Ahnassay in a statement.

This settlement is a signal that governments and industry will work with the Dene Tha’ to ensure the band’s treaty and aboriginal rights, he said.

The northern pipeline is seen to be key to opening up large Arctic natural gas reserves that will help spur northern development.

But the project still faces soaring costs — now pegged at $16.2 billion, double previous estimates — and has been bogged down with regulatory delays and opposition from aboriginal groups. The line’s start date has been pushed back three years to 2014.

The pipeline would ship up to 1.9 billion cubic feet of gas a day about 1,200 kilometres to southern markets from the Beaufort Sea coast in the Northwest Territories.

Project leader Imperial Oil Ltd. welcomed the agreement, but said the company is still working on regulatory approvals.

“We think this is a positive development. It is, however, just one step in the process,” said Gordon Wong, an Imperial spokesman.

The Joint Review Panel, the environmental and socio-economic panel studying the project, has scheduled the last of its hearings to wrap up at the end of November, after which it will submit its final report to the National Energy Board.

Imperial also has yet to reach an agreement with the Deh Cho First Nation, whose lands cover about 40 per cent of the proposed pipeline route.

The Deh Cho is the only major aboriginal group that hasn’t signed on to the pipeline and is still in talks with the federal government over land claims.

Imperial’s partners include Royal Dutch Shell PLC, ConocoPhillips, and the Aboriginal Pipeline Group. 

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