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We must work to be ready for pipeline, says Hardy

Stop talking about it and start planning how the Yukon will cash in on a pipeline running down the Alaska Highway, the NDP is telling the territorial…

Stop talking about it and start planning how the Yukon will cash in on a pipeline running down the Alaska Highway, the NDP is telling the territorial government.

“When (minister of Energy, Mines and Resources) Archie Lang says we’re ready for the pipeline, he’s looking at it with blinders on,” said NDP leader Todd Hardy.

“We’re in no way, shape or form ready when it comes to having skilled tradespeople or understanding the environmental impacts. Saying we’re pipeline ready is a completely false statement.”

Alaska has received five proposals to build a natural gas pipeline, and could make an announcement early in the new year about how, when and where the project will proceed, if at all.

About 760 kilometres, or 27 per cent, of the pipeline could pass through the territory.

Previous estimates pegged the project costs at up to $30 billion.

Construction, even if the project gets approved in 2008, would still be years away.

“Should the route ultimately be chosen to follow the Alaska Highway, the Yukon is prepared and ready to meet both the opportunities and challenges associated with such a project,” said Lang in a news release.

Before the Alaskan government makes a decision, the territory should be doing preparatory work, said Hardy.

Those studies on socio-economic and environmental impacts could still have relevance even if it’s decided a pipeline won’t run through the Yukon, he added.

“(Studies) are not specifically pipeline related, but the initiative is coming from the pipeline to address some of the concerns we have,” said Hardy.

“We can look at how massive construction projects will affect the Yukon, and have in other areas. Train more people so they have jobs, engage the First Nations.”

New trades programs initiated by a pipeline could be modified and scaled down if the project falls through, leaving a skilled workforce, said Hardy.

“You’ve got welders, plumbers and electricians, and they would be some of the best-trained people in Canada whether they’re working on the pipeline or not and we’d all benefit from that,” he said.

A pipeline would tap Alaska’s massive natural gas reserves found in the state’s North Slope — about 35 trillion cubic feet of proven reserves, with much more believed to be undiscovered, according to the Alaska governor’s office.

That’s enough to supply the United States for 18 months.

Five companies submitted proposals before the November 30 deadline.

The applications will be reviewed for the next 60 days.

The territory has no official role in the project or Alaska’s application review process, but has several interests that need satisfying if a pipeline is built in the Yukon.

The ability to take gas off the pipeline and put some in, if Yukon gas reserves were developed, is a key requirement.

The government would likely ask for employment and business opportunity guarantees to mitigate environmental and social concerns, like increased drug and alcohol use often associated with mega-projects.

“The downside of any huge influx of workers in the damage caused by drugs and alcohol,” said Hardy.

“Actual construction would be a short project, but the ramifications will last decades. Are we in position to take the maximum benefits in the long term to address the shortcomings a pipeline would bring?”

Lack of housing and stress put on government programs, especially in communities the pipeline could pass near, are more concerns, said Hardy.

He points to the mine near Atlin as a small-scale example of problems caused by large projects.

“Atlin is only a 20-minute drive from the base camp, and people are driving back and forth three-sheets to the wind, or there are problems created in town,” said Hardy.

“How do we protect families and nurture the good a pipeline could bring and mitigate the negative? We haven’t been doing that.”