Canada panel backs Arctic pipeline conditionally

Wed Dec 30, 2009 6:13pm EST
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - The C$16.2 billion ($15.4 billion) Mackenzie pipeline in Canada's Arctic should be allowed to proceed, provided 176 recommendations aimed at securing socioeconomic benefits and minimizing environmental damage are followed, regulators ruled on Wednesday.

In a much-anticipated report, the Joint Review Panel said it believed the huge gas project would bring overall benefits to Canada's Northwest Territories and avoid major ecological impact if the oil companies proposing the line and governments follow its list of measures.

The list is as diverse as analyzing the impact of climate change on facilities buried in permafrost, monitoring grizzly bear dens, and assessing if alcohol and drug abuse programs in the sparsely populated region are adequate.

"The Mackenzie Gas Project and associated Northwest Alberta Facilities would provide the foundation for a sustainable northern future," the seven-member panel said. "The challenge to all will be to build on that foundation."

The pipeline would carry at least 1.2 billion cubic feet of gas a day to the Alberta border from fields in the Mackenzie Delta near the Beaufort Sea. In Alberta, the gas could be routed to numerous markets in Canada and the United States.

The JRP report, which concentrated on the project's environmental, social and economic impact, comes more than two years after public hearings into the development ended. The project is led by Imperial Oil Ltd.

Imperial and its partners welcomed what appears to be a vote of confidence for the long-delayed project, but could not say yet if any of the recommended measures appear onerous, spokesman Pius Rolheiser said.

The company has three weeks to respond to the report.   Continued...

<p>The sun sets over the Mackenzie Delta near Inuvik, Northwest Territories November 11, 2009. REUTERS/Jeffrey Jones</p>