February 27, 2006

WWF-Canada says protection of special areas should precede pipeline development

Testifying at the joint review panel public hearings on the proposed Mackenzie Gas project in Inuvik, World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-Canada) supported the position of many northerners calling for an adequate network of special cultural and wildlife areas to be protected before any major pipeline development project is carried out.

WWF-Canada president emeritus Monte Hummel, who also testified at the Berger Inquiry in the mid-1970s, said, "Many of the points made by northerners and Justice Berger then are still relevant today. We must sequence conservation first before large-scale development of this kind; it is imperative to the livelihoods of northerners, as well as to wildlife species and their habitats."

WWF-Canada is calling on the joint review panel to support and recommend several key points in its impact assessment work in 2006, and in its final report to the National Energy Board. Recommended measures include:

*conducting a full Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Mackenzie Valley and Beaufort Sea;

*completing comprehensive land use planning and long-term conservation measures before further decisions are made on industrial allocations;

*fully implementing the multi-partner, community-based NWT Protected Areas Strategy Action Plan to 2010;

*establishing benchmark reference areas to assist with impacts monitoring and mitigation measures;

*protecting a robust network of connected natural areas to help people and wildlife adapt to the impacts of rapid climate change in this sensitive region;

*establishing and sustaining full environmental monitoring and infrastructure clean-up initiatives by means such as sufficient posted bonds;

*utilizing fully the existing NWT Cumulative Effects Assessment and Management framework; and

*immediately initiating the development of a national sustainable energy strategy.

These measures, if implemented, will ensure the safeguarding of the integrity of the land and its distinctive cultural traditions for future generations, says WWF-Canada.

The purpose of the hearings is to assess the long-term impacts, both positive and negative, of the Mackenzie Gas project, and establish key conditions under which any pipeline might be approved and built. At the start of such a major hydrocarbon "basin-opening" pipeline project, the main concern shared by northerners and WWF-Canada is the protection of both the residents' long-term interests and the natural ecosystems and wildlife. The gas, oil and mineral rush in Canada's north is driven by escalating prices and energy security issues. What the joint review panel must do, however, is to help the nation decide how to effectively and openly balance both long-term and short-term interests and public commitments.

"Northern people do not want a pipeline at any cost - we do want to avoid the mistakes made elsewhere in the world," said former NWT Premier Stephen Kakfwi, who is advocate for the NWT Protected Areas Strategy.

"This is our homeland, and will be home for our grandchildren. We need a full network of protected areas in the 16 key ecoregions that will be affected by the Mackenzie Gas Project and related and subsequent developments before any pipeline construction is completed. These special cultural and ecological areas will help mitigate the inevitable long-term impacts that our land will experience," he stated.

An expert view was also presented by professor emeritus Gordon Orians, who testified on behalf of WWF-Canada. "Having chaired the U.S. Congress-initiated review of 35 years of northern Alaska's Prudhoe Bay oil and gas developments, a very similar situation to that facing the NWT, I can safely say that we have learned many important lessons about the benefits and costs of such inevitable cumulative oil and gas developments upon opening of a new basin and pipeline," he said, noting that "managing the inevitable cumulative impacts is key - helping to reduce or eliminate damage that would otherwise certainly occur."

WWF-Canada's opening statement and full written intervention may be viewed on the group's Web site, www.wwf.ca.

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