First Nations grapple with pipeline’s uncertain future

The Council of Yukon First Nations should still prepare for the proposed Alaska Highway gas pipeline even though Alaska and the oil companies are now supporting an all-state route, says Grand Chief Ruth Massie.

The Council of Yukon First Nations should still prepare for the proposed Alaska Highway gas pipeline even though Alaska and the oil companies are now supporting an all-state route, says Grand Chief Ruth Massie.

That route would carry gas from the North Slope to a port, like Valdez or Anchorage, where it would be shipped out as liquefied natural gas to international markets, mainly in Asia.

In December Yukon First Nations and the Northern Pipeline Agency initiated a three-month input process to set rules for assessing the environmental and socio-economic impacts of the Alaska Highway route. The federal agency has confirmed that the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board would not review the majority of the project.

But now it looks like the pipeline may never be built through the Yukon.

“We still have to prepare,” said Massie, who is also the former chair of the Alaska Highway Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition.

The decision hasn’t been carved in stone just yet and if minds and markets change, Yukon First Nations want to be prepared, said Massie.

“It’s fine if it doesn’t materialize,” she said.

“And as industry said, it’s up to the suppliers. We certainly recognize the importance (of the project). But for Yukon First Nations, the number one priority is the environmental and regulatory process attached to the project. This industry is new to our area, for First Nations, and we need to ensure things are proceeding the way we want it to.

“Although we support a project, economically, the biggest concern is environmental and regulatory processing. The whole process needs to address our concerns because they are very legitimate.”

TransCanada still has a 760-kilometre-long and 240-metre-wide easement, or right-of-way, through the territory. It has had the easement renewed twice and has paid annual land rent for it since 1976. The deal is due to expire on Sept. 20 but the company has requested it be extended for a third time, making it valid for another 10 years.

If the pipeline was built following that easement, it would have hundreds of river and creek crossings and would run along the bottom of Kluane Lake for about 5.4 kilometres.

But before that can happen, TransCanada has to do multiple environmental tests, including some limited blasting into the lake bed.

“Why are we proceeding with doing this easement renewal when it’s becoming apparent, at this point, that this is not going to be an option,” asked Kluane First Nation Chief Math’ieya Alatini.

“If TransCanada is not going to go ahead with this option, then scrap it. Give us back our lands, take your easement away and don’t bother blasting the bottom of Kluane Lake.”

Portions of the proposed Alaska Highway pipeline project were built in parts of B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 1980s. In the 2011 budget, the Canadian government committed $4 million to the project over the next two years. Ottawa has scheduled 15 months, beginning in March, to update and review the Northern Pipeline Agency’s environmental and socio-economic assessment regime.

If the proposed Alaska Highway pipeline project were to ahead, it would affect at least 40 First Nations across the Yukon and B.C. It has the potential to produce about $70 million to $100 million in territorial tax money each year – money that would have to be divided between the Yukon government and Yukon First Nations.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

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