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Threats to the Mackenzie Valley

Canada’s longest and possibly wildest river is threatened by the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project in the Northwest Territories. The Mackenzie Valley, home of the 1800 km long Mackenzie River, as well as the Mackenzie Delta, the world’s fourth largest arctic delta, will be transformed permanently if this project gets the go-ahead.

The Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP) is truly a giant among megaprojects, likely to cost at least CDN$ 5 billion. The MGP consists of three natural gas production fields in the Mackenzie Delta, a gathering system connecting these fields to a compression station in Inuvik, and two pipelines, the largest of which is 1300km, to carry the gas south to northern Alberta. Mackenzie gas will almost certainly be used to extract oil from the Athabasca tar sands of northern Alberta. The second smaller pipeline, which will transport natural gas liquids, will connect to the existing Norman Wells pipeline 500km south of Inuvik. The pipelines are to be constructed underground along most of the length of the Mackenzie River tunneling under 500 rivers and streams!

The construction of the pipeline would inevitably cause significant ecological destruction along the right-of-way. Much boreal forest and taiga in the dammed and mainly unroaded Mackenzie Valley would be clear-cut and heavy machinery deployed to construct the industrial infrastructure needed to extract and transport the natural gas. Increased sediment deposition into the rivers and streams of the valley would result from constructing pipeline crossings, thus harming fish and fish habitat. No winter studies have yet been done to assess the seriousness of these impacts. Wildlife is also at risk. Six internationally recognized Important Bird Areas (IBAs) occurring along or near the Mackenzie River are breeding or staging areas for millions of geese, tundra swans and other migratory birds.

Imperial Oil and Shell Canada, two of the MGP proponents, plan to develop the Taglu and Niglintgak gas fields (respectively) in the Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Kendall Island is the breeding grounds for many of the 100 species of migratory birds present in the Mackenzie Delta, as well as the highly endangered Eskimo Curlew. Other wildlife species including caribou, wolves and polar and grizzly bears, could also be threatened by the MGP.

The Mackenzie Valley is underlain by permafrost along much of its length and construction and operation of the MGP will almost certainly degrade the permafrost in some places and cause frost heaving in others. Given that climate change is expected to be more severe in the Mackenzie Valley than other parts of Canada, the pipeline may end up running through slumping watery soils rather than solid frozen ground.

There are many uncertainties and risks associated with this project but one thing is for certain, the Mackenzie Gas Project would alter forever the wild and pristine Mackenzie Valley.

The Environmental Assessment of the Mackenzie Gas Project


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