The Mackenzie Gas Pipeline
From Berger to Today

Post Berger History

Delta photo from 
plane. Photo by Peter Blanken.

Despite the setback to the oil and gas industry from the Berger Report and the National Energy Board's subsequent acceptance of Berger's 10 year moratorium in 1977, oil and gas prospecting and production in the arctic continued. Part of that continuing growth was fuelled by the 1980 National Energy Program, a Canadian bill that allowed companies to write off more than 100% of their development costs in the north, while penalizing them for the same development in southern provinces. However, with gas and oil prices plummeting in the early 80's, the incentives for building a pipeline through the Mackenzie Valley or the Alaska Highway dissipated.

Exploration continued at a steady pace, however, and by 1995 there were over 1900 wells above 60 degrees latitude. In addition, land claims by native peoples began to reach settlements. The Inuvialuit settled the first land claim in 1984, and were followed by settlements by the Sahtu and Gwich'in. By the late 90's, interest in proceeding with a pipeline was again increasing. A 2000 sale of mineral claim rights netted the Canadian government $400 million in bids and over $1 billion (Canadian) in work commitments. In addition, United States energy policy began to favor increased production from nearby sources. With the first wave of land claims settled, negotiations began between oil and gas companies interested in a new pipeline, and local native groups. These negotiations reached fruition in October, 2001, when ConocoPhillips, Shell, ExxonMobile, and Imperial Oil signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Aboriginal Pipeline Group (APG). The APG formed to represent the Inuvialuit, Sahtu, and Gwich'in in negotiations with the pipeline backers. The Memorandum of Understanding offered the APG a financial stake in the pipeline. The APG bought its stake of the pipeline in February of 2003, with the backing of pipeline company TransCanada. The APG and oil and gas company backers created the Mackenzie Gas Project to build a natural gas pipeline down the Mackenzie Valley from the Delta to Alberta. With the APG's full backing and support, planning for the pipeline began, and in June 2003 the pipeline group submitted a Preliminary Information Package to the National Energy Board, beginning the process of regulatory review and approval.

Land Claims

Map of 
Mackenzie Valley settlement areas. Map from Oil and Gas Development Guides

The Berger Report emphasized the importance of settling land claims in the Mackenzie Valley before moving ahead with a pipeline. But, while significant settlements have occurred with the Invialuit in 1984, Sahtu in 1993, and Gwich'in in 1992; the Deh Cho have not settled their land claims, and thus pose a significant stumbling block to the Mackenzie Gas Project. 40% of the proposed pipeline runs through Deh Cho land, but the Deh Cho are not part of the APG and do not have a direct say in the pipeline proposal.

In fact, opposition to the pipeline from the Deh Cho has already had an impact on the review process. In November of 2003, Deh Cho leaders leveled charges that Paul Brenier, vice-president of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency had improperly used information about the pipeline for personal benefit. Herb Norweigan, a Deh Cho chief, charged that Maureen Brenier, Paul's wife, had made 12 mineral claims in 1998 that all lay directly within the path of the pipeline, despite the fact that the pipeline's route was not released until several years later. As well as calling for an investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Deh Cho also walked out on negotiations with the pipeline consortia. Those talks are due to restart on December 15th, 2003.

The Deh Cho also continue to pursue their own land settlement with the Canadian government. The Deh Cho and six other groups continue talks with the government. The pipeline consortia is negotiating separately with communities with unsettled claims to allow access for the pipeline.