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Pipeline report a full year away

Brodie Thomas
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 8, 2008

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Northern leaders expressed shock and outrage after the Joint Review Panel for the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project announced it will now release its report in December 2009.

The announcement comes just days after several stakeholders in the project voiced their concern over delays in the project.

"We understand there is tremendous interest in the panel's findings but we are required and committed to base our findings on a full and fair review of the evidence," said JRP chairman Robert Hornal.

The report was supposed to be ready by October 2008. Last May that date was pushed ahead to sometime in the spring of 2009.

As early as Nov. 3, federal environment minister Jim Prentice was speaking about the completion of the JRP report by May 2009.

Imperial Oil spokesperson Pius Rolheiser said his company is "extremely disappointed" with the extended delay and said it will be a "setback" for the project.

Imperial Oil is the leading organizer on the proposed $17 billion project, although they are partnering with several major oil companies.

Rolheiser said Imperial Oil will have to now reassess what this will mean for work that is already ongoing.

"Clearly we had expected a Joint Review Panel report much earlier but I think it would be premature to say what the specific implications might be," he said.

Rolheiser would not speculate as to whether or not this would be the final nail in the coffin for the pipeline.

He did say that it is a long-term project and even the current economic crisis is not expected to shelve the project.

Aboriginal Pipeline Group (APG) president Bob Reid said his group is disappointed

"A delay is just not good news for the project and for APG because it means a further delay for the benefits of the project to flow to our aboriginal shareholders," he said.

Like Prentice, Reid said he had expectations for the JRP to present its report in the Spring of 2009. He said the new date was puzzling to him.

Inuvik Mayor Derek Lindsay did not mince words in his reaction to the delay.

"One word: unacceptable," said Lindsay. "If the pipeline goes down the tubes because of this, it's not just Inuvik that loses, it's the entire territory."

He said the JRP has had more than a year to work on the report and another year is too much time.

"How many of them are on the board? What are they doing down there? Drinking coffee and eating donuts?" asked Lindsay.

Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington said the delay is unfortunate but he is not surprised that it is happening.

"The process they set up has to be followed through and there is not much they can do about it," he said.

Bevington sat on the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board from 2000 to 2002 and warned the federal government that its plan to bypass established environmental assessment structures by using the JRP was a bad idea.

He said under a traditional environmental assessment, experts would have addressed many of the complex environmental and technical concerns of the pipeline.

"Now the process they've established has pushed all that up to the board level and made it extraordinarily complex," said Bevington.

He said the current process must now be allowed to run its course.

The JRP was created through an agreement between the Mackenzie Valley Impact Review Board (MVEIRB), the Inuvialuit, and the environment minister.

Its job is to provide recommendations in regards to social end environmental impacts of the pipeline.

The JRP held hearings in the fall of 2007. It held 115 days of hearings and has received more than 5,000 written submissions and thousands of recommendations, according to a JRP press release.

In the November speech from the throne, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to remove regulatory barriers standing in the way of the project.

The future of Harper's minority Conservative government is now unknown since a Liberal-NDP coalition threatened to bring down the conservative minority government and take power.

Parliament has been dismissed until late January, when the conservatives will deliver a budget.