So the GNWT wants to know what you think about oil and gas development. Well, not really. The online survey it posted last week is more about convincing the public that the territory’s economic future lies with getting stranded oil and gas out of the ground and into the marketplace.
To do that, we need an NWT Oil and Gas Strategy, one that ITI Minister Dave Ramsay says “will provide a plan to develop the territory’s vast petroleum resources in a safe and responsible manner while encouraging lasting economic growth and opportunities for the people of the NWT.”
What do you think? Quickly!
Ramsay is inviting everyone to toss in their two cents worth, “to ensure the priorities of all communities are reflected.”
But be quick about it. The survey is posted until the end of April. The government has a July deadline to draft the strategy that “will help to diversify and strengthen the economy,” a “key priority” of the 17th Assembly, Ramsay reminded us in his announcement.
Why the rush? Husky Oil and ConocoPhillips have suspended hydraulic fracturing operation in the Sahtu, and the deepwater Arctic play won’t go ahead until the industry is ready to meet the technical challenges.
Perhaps the GNWT is taking encouragement from a petroleum industry-generated report that urges the US to bring on remote and difficult northern oil and gas fields before the shale beds are tapped dry and its current boom goes bust. If Alaska and the Arctic are back in play, the NWT just might be next in line.
Leaving it in the ground
There is also a growing global movement, born of climate change predictions and the threat of global warming, that is urging petro states to leave it in the ground. Some residents of the territory share that view, but that’s not something the survey wants to probe too deeply.
Every competent barrister knows not to ask a question if he doesn’t know how the witness will answer, and — perhaps even more critical to persuading judge and jury — if the answer might undermine your argument.
The survey asks 11 questions that are intended to measure degrees of support for oil and gas development, and a half-dozen more to locate respondents along the usual demographic faultlines. It opens with a question about what sector of the industry you want to know more about, what risks concern you and where you get your information.
Then it gets down to business: which issues have the greatest impact on whether oil and gas activity happens here. It offers 15 choices to be ranked in order of importance:
Transportation costs; missing infrastructure; availability of information about oil and gas potential; concerns about potential environmental impacts; available workforce; partnerships and collaboration with communities, government and industry; Engagement with aboriginal groups: regulatory process and requirements; appropriate environmental protections; land use planning processes; devolution of land management authority; the price of oil; government incentives; aboriginal land claim status.
Make ’em pay
Under the heading “What should the GNWT do to develop oil and gas?”, the survey offers nine choices to be ranked in order of importance: facilitator; investor; infrastructure support; financial support – including tax and royalty incentives; funding or conducting research; communication and education, such as facts on pipelines, fracking, benefits and costs; labour force training.
If that’s not enough, respondents are invited to suggest other ways the GNWT can support oil and gas development.
How about this: the oil and gas industry can pay its own way on the infrastructure highway, through tolls on the territory’s battered roads, or maybe finance them entirely. The multi-nationals have far deeper pockets than the dwindling population of the Northwest Territories. If the objective is to raise revenue through royalties, why reduce the rent or lessen the scrutiny on one of the world’s dirtiest industries?