N.W.T. politicians keeping eye on ripple effects of shale oil development

N.W.T. politicians keeping eye on ripple effects of shale oil development by Lauren Krugel, August 25, 2012, The Canadian Press
If an emerging oil deposit in the Northwest Territories winds up being as massive as many expect it to be, a local politician says it’s going to take a lot of planning to make sure government services and regulatory oversight keep up with the resulting economic boom. Norman Yakeleya, who represents the Sahtu region in the territorial legislature, likens what’s going on in the area to corn kernels on a stove that’s heating up. “And then all of a sudden — bang, bang, pop, pop. Pretty soon you have an explosion of everything,” he said. “We’ve got to prepare for this and we’ve got to get our numbers right here.” The Sahtu area in the central Mackenzie Valley is home to the Canol shale formation, which some estimate could contain between two and three billion barrels of oil. … Yaleleya was part of a Northwest Territories government delegation that visited Calgary last week to hear from regulators and industry about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. … The government paid for the trip, said organizer Doug Matthews, a Calgary-based consultant who has long worked on northern energy issues. Industry groups hosted a somewhat similar trip earlier in the summer for rural Quebecers. Natural gas development has been halted in Quebec while the province weighs the pros and cons of fracking. Industry paid for that tour, though a few local politicians who participated covered their own costs. The Northwest Territories’ trip included sessions with Alberta and British Columbia energy regulators as well as with the National Energy Board, which oversees oil and gas development in the North. The group also visited a drilling operation west of Calgary operated by Husky Energy Inc. (TSX:HSE), which plans this winter to evaluate two vertical wells it drilled a year earlier in the Sahtu, and a laboratory run by drilling company Trican Well Services Ltd.

“It’s important, I think, that the members of the assembly try to get a better idea of what’s involved and what are the challenges,” said Matthews. Yakeleya said he went into the NEB meeting with a lot of questions about how drilling will be regulated. “If this proves to be a great shale oil play and companies want to be there for a long, long time then the National Energy Board needs to catch up to the ball and keep up with it,” he said. “We need to have people in the Northwest Territories. Specifically, they’ve got to be in the Sahtu region to ensure that the public safety and concerns are taken seriously — and we mean by opening up an office in the Sahtu.” David Ramsay, the territory’s minister of industry, tourism, investment and transportation, also took part in the tour. … There hasn’t been a “huge groundswell of opposition” in the Northwest Territories like there has been in Quebec and other areas. Still, residents of the territory want to know what sort of environmental impact drilling could have — namely water use and contamination from the fracking chemicals. “The fuller the picture, the better the decision,” he said. The government is already having discussions about the ripple effects an oil-driven economic boom could have — issues familiar to the oilsands epicentre of Fort McMurray, Alta. “It’s going to have an impact on our health-care system. It’s going to have an impact on our schools. It’s going to have an impact on policing and some other social concerns, and that’s something as a government that we’re going to have to pay close attention to,” said Ramsay. [Emphasis added]

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