After Christmas but before New Year’s Day 2010, an entity known as the Joint Review Panel gave a positive review of the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project.
The Mackenzie Gas Project refers to the development of natural gas fields in the Mackenzie Delta region of the Northwest Territories and the construction of an underground pipeline to carry that gas to Alberta.
The Joint Review Panel has been spending quite a few years consulting with northerners, stakeholders and all the usual suspects on the possible social and environmental impacts the Mackenzie project could have.
The report concludes that the impacts of the project on these issues can either be mitigated or overcome.
This report now goes the National Energy Board for consideration along with engineering and fiscal issues.
It must be noted that the Joint Review Panel did attach quite a few recommendations to its decision.
To read all of them check out the final report at www.ngps.nt.ca and click on the JRP Registry link.
What with the all those recommendations, and the financial uncertainty surrounding any mega-project, it does not mean the Mackenzie Gas Project is guaranteed to proceed.
But it is a big step forward in getting the permitting approvals lined up.
Big as this project is, it is not as big as some of the problems that are now unfolding around it.
On the same day the Joint Review Panel on the Mackenzie Gas Project released its positive report the CBC National newscast carried another story.
It pointed out that 2009 was the warmest year on record for the Canadian High Arctic.
And the past decade, 2000 to 2009, was the warmest on record for Canada.
This is what climate change is, a warming of the world.
Climate change is being mostly caused by humans burning fossil fuels.
The Mackenzie Gas Project will allow more fossil fuels, in this particular case natural gas, to be burnt.
It is anticipated that one billion cubic feet of natural gas will be extracted and piped south by the Mackenzie Gas Project every day.
This is going to massively increase the carbon footprint of Northern Canada and result in even more climate change.
The same politicians and business leaders who are such gung-ho advocates of this sort of economic development will probably be the first to start screaming that someone should be doing something about climate change because of the huge impact it is having on the North.
Well, the obvious solution is to stop developing every single fossil fuel deposit and then taking those fossil fuels, burning them and then pumping the wastes into the atmosphere.
As if this was not obvious enough, a big environmental concern for a portion of the Yukon is now looming.
Projects of this magnitude hardwire the North into fossil fuel development.
Because billions of dollars have been pumped into building the pipeline any project that provides gas to fill the pipeline, no matter how socially inappropriate or environmentally damaging, will be pushed through.
Developing these gas fields will be considered the first and best possible use of the land.
All other forms of activity, be it economic or traditional, will be subordinated to the need to drill for gas.
The environmental impacts of sprawling gas development will be disastrous.
The Mackenzie Delta will begin to look like Northern Alberta with massive habitat fragmentation and collapsing ecosystems.
If one thinks the caribou are in decline now, just wait and see what is coming.
Because of this, the societal impacts on northern communities are going to be extremely negative.
Without the ecosystems available to support traditional harvesting lifestyles, most residents will have to get work in the gas fields.
Traditional foods will disappear from regular diets and will be replaced by whatever is available at the stores.
Of major concern to most Yukoners should be the impact on the Peel Watershed.
The Peel Watershed sits atop quite a few potential natural gas deposits.
The Peel Watershed is also a rather large, mostly undeveloped and very beautiful portion of the Yukon.
It has been the subject of a recent and somewhat acrimonious planning process.
The final draft plan recommends designating quite large areas of the Peel Watershed to be removed from the impacts of industrial development such as fossil fuel extraction.
Well, now that the Mackenzie Pipeline is back in the spotlight, one wonders what the fossil fuel industry is thinking about the proposed Peel Watershed land use plan.
To add to the excitement, the Yukon territorial government has decided to hold an oil and gas request for postings with a deadline for these requests on January 20th.
This is when the fossil fuel companies indicate which areas of the Yukon they would like to see packaged up for the bidding process to determine which particular company gets the exploration rights.
The Peel Watershed, in spite of calls by some groups for a moratorium on both mining staking and fossil fuel posting, is up for consideration in the request for posting.
Because the Peel Watershed Land Use Plan has yet to be adopted there is the chance the spillover from the momentum building on the Mackenzie Gas Project will result in fossil fuel rights being awarded in this area and thus negate portions of the plan.
Current values and industries will be swept away so that a few can get wealthy from a resource that is literally cooking the planet.
These few will stand up and proclaim it is all in the name of sustainable development and economic progress.
Meanwhile the very ground melts beneath them and the development they are advocating will destroy existing ecosystems and the communities that are dependent upon them.
The Joint Review Panel has given a positive recommendation to the Mackenzie Gas Project.
It has also contributed to the destruction of the land and way of life of the North.
Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.