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Near Fort Simpson, the staging area for the building of the Mackenzie Valley natural gas lineJOHN LEHMANN

The saga of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline dates back to the late 1970s, when many aboriginal groups in the region opposed its construction and Justice Thomas Berger recommended it be put on hold.

  • The proposal of a pipeline corridor from the North was put forward by the federal government in the 1970 Pipeline Guidelines.
  • Canadian Arctic Gas Pipeline Ltd., composed of more than two dozen Canadian and American producers (including Exxon, Shell and TransCanada PipeLines), proposed a route from Alaska's Prudhoe fields, across the Northern Yukon to the Mackenzie and then south to Alberta.
  • Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd., formed by Alberta Gas Trunk Line (NOVA) and Westcoast Transmission, pitched a shorter route from the Mackenzie Delta to Alberta. The Alaska alternative would have been the longest pipeline in the world and the greatest construction project ever, in part because of the engineering challenge of building on permafrost.

June, 1977: After visiting 35 communities over three years, Justice Thomas Berger releases his report. His conclusion? Hold off construction for 10 years.

June, 1984: The Inuvialuit of the Northwest Territories-one of four aboriginal groups affected by the pipeline-settle their land claim with Ottawa. The Gwich'in sign in December, 1992, and the Sahtu Dene in September, 1993. The Deh Cho Dene have still not signed an agreement.

June, 2000: The Aboriginal Pipeline Group (APG) is born. Chairman Fred Carmichael, the Gwich'in leader, negotiates open-ended financing from TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. and orchestrates a one-third stake with Imperial Oil, Exxon, Shell and ConocoPhillips.

January, 2002: Design begins on the 1,220 km gas line. Price tag: Initial estimates peg the cost at $7.5-billion; it has now ballooned to $16.2-billion

December, 2003: The Northern Gas Project Secretariat is established to help people access information from pipeline hearings.

August, 2004: Ottawa creates a joint review panel to conduct a socioeconomic and environmental study to coincide with National Energy Board hearings. The NEB and the panel are expected to finish hearings by the end of the year.

September, 2004: Deh Cho First Nation objects to panel appointments and sues to stop hearings. Price tag: Eleven months later, the Deh Cho accept $15-million from feds to drop case.

October, 2004: Companies with proposals to help build the pipeline file applications. Imperial Oil anticipates 1,000 permits will be required. Actual number of permits: 6,911.

April, 2005: Proponents of the pipeline halt engineering work, citing unrealistic aboriginal demands. Imperial Oil's then-senior VP Michael Yeager threatens to call off project.

July, 2005: Liberal government offers aboriginal groups $500-million over 10 years, contingent on the project proceeding. Companies and government set up a $40-million aboriginal training fund.

May, 2007: Federal government declares there is no interest in a government ownership role, after published reports suggested Ottawa is considering taking equity in the project.

July, 2007: Ottawa settles a case with the Dene Tha First Nation of northwestern Alberta after the Federal Court rules that the government did not adequately consult the band about the pipeline's termination on their traditional land. Price tag: $25-million.

September, 2007: Northwest Territories Industry Minister Brendan Bell warns the $16.2-billion Mackenzie Valley pipeline may not get built without federal cash for key access infrastructure as well as loan guarantees for the project's aboriginal investors.

December, 2007: Executives from Imperial Oil Ltd. and TransCanada Corp., present a new financial plan to the federal government in hopes of kick-starting the pipeline.

January, 2009: The federal government provides a strong push for Mackenzie Valley pipeline by tabling an offer of major financial assistance, including "risk sharing." Environment Minister Jim Prentice met in Calgary with the consortium of oil companies, led by Imperial Oil Ltd., and laid out Ottawa's proposed financial package, including support for infrastructure and some measure of assuming financial risk in return for sharing in the profits.

March, 2009: The budget for the panel reviewing the proposed $16-billion Mackenzie Valley Pipeline has nearly tripled amid delays that have frustrated industry and government, an internal federal report said. The report from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency says the Joint Review Panel's costs have risen to $18-million, from the original budget of $6.8-million when it was established in the summer of 2004. The federal review of its work found that salaries alone have soared to $11-million, including more than $900,000 for the chairman, said a source who has been briefed on it.

March, 2009: Jim Prentice says he has "sought legal advice" on how to speed the work of a panel reviewing the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the proposed $16-billion Mackenzie Valley pipeline. But the federal Environment Minister declined to detail what options he has at his disposal, or whether he would use them.

June, 2009: Exxon Mobil Corp. joined forces with TransCanada Corp. on its $26-billion (U.S.) natural gas pipeline from Alaska to Alberta, a move that jeopardizes the Mackenzie Valley gas project vital to the development of Canada's north. Exxon and Imperial both said that Mackenzie is still on track and unaffected by the Alaska development. But because of numerous regulatory delays, the Mackenzie project wouldn't be completed before 2017 at the earliest, and most analysts doubt the two projects could proceed at the same time because of required construction resources.

September, 2009: The Globe and Mail learned that federal public servants at Transport Canada are routinely filing millions of dollars in expenses - including overtime, salaries and computers - to a fund was set up six years ago so that the department could oversee the expected increase in air traffic and other transportation needs. Though the pipeline remains in limbo, the department has kept the fund alive year after year, using it to cover millions in expenses that have nothing to do with the pipeline. Documents released through access-to-information requests list the expenses, which total $10.7-million since 2004. Expenses continued to be billed to the pipeline project this year. What's more, government documents show Transport Canada managers insisted employees bill all expenses to the fund for any travel that is loosely in the area of the proposed pipeline - listing 23 communities in the Northwest Territories as "Mackenzie Valley locations." When employees noted their trips to the region had nothing to do with the pipeline, they were told that Transport Canada headquarters approved the use of the fund based on geography.

Source: Globe and Mail archives

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