we could win this hand of pipeline poker

‘And we should also tap more of our substantial natural gas reserves and work with the Canadian government to finally build the Alaska natural…

‘And we should also tap more of our substantial natural gas reserves and work with the Canadian government to finally build the Alaska natural gas pipeline, delivering clean natural gas and creating good jobs in the process.”

Barack Obama, US presidential candidate, August 4th, 2008

While Obama has become the darling of the young and the left, on the big northern fossil fuel projects he is sounding just the same as any old right-wing Texas oilman.

Perhaps it is time to brief the presidential wannabe about the current state of pipeline politics in the northwest section of the continent.

For a start, the Yukon has Alaska in a rather unexpected pipeline negotiating position.

It is at its complete and utter mercy.

If it were a poker game, the Yukon has just been dealt a royal flush while the Alaskans have managed to drop their cards face up on the table for everyone to see.

This situation all started a few weeks ago when the Alaskan state legislature and state senate approved $500 million in engineering and development funds to TransCanada Pipelines.

This money is for preliminary permitting work on the proposed Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline.

Five hundred million might seem like a lot, but the total cost of this pipeline is currently estimated to be in the $30 billion range.

This pipeline would run from the Prudhoe Bay region, down to Fairbanks, then essentially follow the Alaska Highway all the way to Alberta.

There the natural gas pipeline would tie in to the rest of the North American grid for distribution far and wide.

Pipeline fever is back and many issues can now be put in play in that uncertain card game sometimes called pipeline politics.

As in any decent game, there is one wild card.

In this game the Yukon has it.

The pipeline has to cross the Yukon to get from Alaska to Alberta.

It cannot go over the top, it cannot go around the bottom.

The pipeline has to traverse Canada’s most westerly territory.

At the same time there are some issues of conflict between the Yukon and Alaska.

Collapsed fisheries in Yukon rivers, due in part to Alaskan overfishing, is one.

There is also the little matter of Alaska constantly pushing to have the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd opened up to fossil fuel development.

There is also the offshore border dispute in the Beaufort Sea between the Alaskan and Yukon borders.

Canada claims it goes directly along the 141-degree latitude line to the Pole, while the Americans claim it veers eastwards towards the Canadian Archipelago.

As an aside, the state of Alaska is once again offering oil and gas rights for sale in a portion of this disputed zone.

The Alaskans need Yukon co-operation in seeing the Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline proceed.

Yet there is that aforementioned group of critical outstanding issues between the two jurisdictions.

And here comes the Joker in this political card-game.

The pipeline is not really required by the Yukon.

In fact, it is a huge negative.

The idea of taking trillions of cubic feet of a fossil fuel such as natural gas, burning it, turning it into a greenhouse gas and pumping it into the atmosphere is not a good one.

Despite Obama’s nice words, natural gas is not as clean as other forms of energy such as hydro, solar and wind.

Climate change is happening now, and all this fossil fuel development is making things much worse for the future.

The pipeline will also hardwire the North into future fossil fuel development.

There is going to be lots of pressure to ensure additional gas fields are found to keep the pipeline filled.

This is because natural gas is not a sustainable, renewable form of energy.

The gas reservoirs that are currently known in the Alaskan North will be pumped dry over the years and will have to be replaced by new discoveries.

There will be pressure in the future to open up the Porcupine caribou herd calving grounds to gas exploration.

There will also be intense pressure to permit fossil fuel exploration and development all over the Yukon.

The cumulative impacts of this proposed pipeline are unknown in their exactitude, but they are known in their general intent.

The Yukon could end up looking like Northern Alberta — an ecological nightmare.

Of course, if the Yukon had coherent climate change and energy policies this pipeline would not be permitted.

Not one foot of it would be permitted on Canadian soil.

The environmental impacts are just too great.

But since the Yukon government seems keen on the project, one must work with the hand of cards that has been dealt.

The Yukon has to be crossed by the pipeline.

The Yukon needs the Alaskans to act on certain cross-border issues.

The Yukon doesn’t need the pipeline.

One hopes Obama is as good a card player as he is an orator.

As the most-likely future leader of the United States his administration will have to represent the Alaskans with a rather weak hand at this particular negotiating table.

Now if only the Yukon government can be convinced to play the hand they have been dealt…

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.

Just Posted

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before using it on Nov. 24. The Yukon government is reopening the drive-thru option on June 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Drive-up COVID-19 testing opening June 18 in Whitehorse

The drive-up testing will be open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. everyday and increase testing capacity by 33 spots

A draft plan has been released by the Dawson Regional Use Planning commission on June 15. Julien Gignac/Yukon News
Draft plan released by the Dawson Regional Land Use Planning Commission

Dawson Regional Land Use Commission releases draft plan, Government of Yukon withdraws additional lands from mineral staking in the planning region

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Let them live in trailers

“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city… Continue reading

X
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for June 18, 2021.… Continue reading

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Yukon News file)
Yukon logs nine new COVID-19 cases, 54 active cases

More CEMA enforcement officers have been recruited, officials say

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council at its June 14 meeting

Murray Arsenault sits in the drivers seat of his 1975 Bricklin SV1 in Whitehorse on June 16. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Bringing the 1975 Bricklin north

Murray Arsenault remembers his dad’s Bricklin, while now driving his own

A presumptive COVID case was found at Seabridge Gold’s 3 Aces project. (file photo)
Presumptive COVID-19 case reported at mine in southeast Yukon

A rapid antigen rest found a presumptive COVID case on an incoming individual arriving at the 3Aces project

Jonathan Antoine/Cabin Radio
Flooding in Fort Simpson on May 8.
Fort Simpson asked for military help. Two people showed up.

FORT SIMPSON—Residents of a flooded Northwest Territories village expected a helping hand… Continue reading

A woman was rescued from the Pioneer Ridge Trail in Alaska on June 16. (Photo courtesy/AllTrails)
Alaska hiker chased off trail by bears flags down help

ANCHORAGE (AP)—An Alaska hiker who reported needing help following bear encounters on… Continue reading

Two participants cross the finish line at the City of Whitehorse Kids Triathlon on June 12 with Mayor Dan Curtis on hand to present medals. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
2021 Kids’ Triathlon draws 76 young athletes

Youth ages five to 14 swim, run and bike their way to finish line

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq rises in the House of Commons, in Ottawa on May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable’ that Inuk MP felt unsafe in House of Commons, Miller says

OTTAWA—It’s a “sad reflection” on Canada that an Inuk MP feels she’s… Continue reading

Lily Witten performs her Canadian Nationals beam routine on June 14. John Tonin/Yukon News
Three Yukon gymnasts break 20-year Nationals absence

Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten competed at the Canadian Nationals – the first time in 20 years the Yukon’s been represented at the meet

Most Read