Dene Nation, Alternatives North and Ecology North Renew Call for Development that Respects Northerners


Joint press release

Date of publication: 
13 November 2012

This past week, MGM Energy cancelled its application to conduct a horizontal fracturing (‘fracking’) operation on one of its leases in the Sahtu region. MGM was the first company exploring the massive shale oil play whose application triggered an environmental assessment before the Review Board. MGM is the smallest and least experienced of the companies holding leases in the Sahtu. The others (Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips, Husky, and Shell Canada) have chosen to proceed more cautiously; this winter they have chosen to collect baseline information about surface water, groundwater, and wildlife. This kind of preparation is critical since we currently know so little about the risks of horizontal fracturing in the region. These activities are already creating many jobs in the region.

MGM tried to race ahead of the others and go straight to horizontal fracturing. People in the Sahtu region expressed legitimate concerns and asked whether this could contaminate groundwater resources and harm the fish and wildlife on which they depend. It is not the fault of the regulatory system if MGM was not prepared to answer these important questions. MGM was apparently relying on its partner, Shell Canada, to fund the environmental assessment process. Shell pulled the plug once MGM was put under greater scrutiny.

The NWT has a ‘made-in-the-north’ system of regulation over activities that could have harmful impacts on northern land, water, wildlife, and human health and wellbeing. The Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act is still new; it was established in 1999 after northerners fought long and hard to have their rights and their values protected in law. The MVRMA is built on land claim agreements, and it is designed to ensure that citizens in each of the regions have a greater say over the scale and pace of development.

Over the past 13 years, the federal government has failed to live up to its legal obligation to properly implement and fund the NWT resource management system. In many cases, NWT boards have done their work quickly and efficiently, only to have their reports sit on the Minister’s desk in Ottawa for months or even years before he makes the final decision. Two independent audits have confirmed the problems lay mostly at the feet of the federal government. The federal government has not responded to these audits1. The NWT regulatory boards have nevertheless done a tremendous amount of work to clarify and standardize their processes, which has created more certainty for industry and the public.

Instead of recognizing these important efforts, some business proponents continue to blame the regulatory system for every industrial project that does not go ahead as predicted. The NWT regulatory boards are made out to be some kind of bogeyman that can ‘spook’ and scare away billionaire multi-national companies.

Are those who are crying foul over the MGM cancellation really suggesting that northerners should not have the right to know more about the proposed fracturing operations? Poorly planned projects with unknown risks should not go ahead. Otherwise, we will end up with more Giant or Colomac mines. We are very worried about ideologically-driven dismantling of our environmental management legislation that has been thoughtfully established over decades.

The bottom line is, we have to make sure that industrial activity in the NWT protects the environment and is in the best interest of northerners. We need a strong regulatory system in order to do that. Let us all show more respect for our regulatory boards and more respect for the rights of NWT citizens and constitutionally protected Treaty and Aboriginal rights.

The primary contact person will be Christine Wenman from Ecology North

Christine Wenman
Ecology North
chris [at] ecologynorth [dot] ca

Bill Erasmus, Dene National Chief
Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief NWT
willyRerasmus [at] gmail [dot] com

Shauna Morgan
Alternatives North
shauna.yk [at] gmail [dot] com

[1] 2005 and 2010 NWT Environmental Audit. Available at