New partners
NT and B.C. work toward co-operating on oil/gas initiatives

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 22/99) - Although no details have been finalized, NWT Premier Jim Antoine and B.C. Premier Dan Miller met in Vancouver last week and agreed to work together to meet the infrastructure needs of their natural gas and oil industries.

"Certainly they are interested in having the gas go through B.C," Antoine said, adding that the discussions came at Miller's request during their recent Team Canada trade mission to Japan. "On the Miller side, he's interested in a closer work relationship with us. They realize, I guess, that the find (Chevron/Ranger/Canadian Forest Oil near Fort Liard) is the tip of the iceberg."

That said, there's a lot of work yet to be done on the co-operation agreement. Antoine said it's hoped the memorandum of understanding will take a more definite shape by Nov. 1.

While the government is eager to promote the industry -- demonstrated by the Mackenzie Valley Resource Development Planning Project announced this week -- it also has to be mindful of First Nation self-government negotiation agreements, Antoine readily acknowledged.

"Of course it's sensitive. The Deh Cho are right on the verge of starting to get under way with negotiations," he said. "As a government, if a band is going to move ahead as (Chief) Harry (Deneron) has done, the only thing you can do is be supportive. It's difficult, but you could wait for a long time for a claim."

While self-government will come in time, there are other ways to enhance the economy in the interim, he suggested.

"What Fort Liard is doing is maximizing the benefits from the exploration end with the capacity they have," Antoine said, noting that the royalties are still flowing south at this point. "The only way I would put any support behind any of this stuff is if the bands are involved in the pipeline."

That is the case with the proposed Paramount pipeline, where the Acho Dene Koe Band will have 10 per cent ownership and will stand to gain revenue for many years.

"At least it's a long-term benefit that wasn't there before," he said.

Shane Parrish, general manager of the Fort Liard Valley Band Development Corporation, applauded the GNWT for attempting to improve business relations with B.C.

"I think it's good ... we can only benefit from co-operation," he said. "We'd like to see them (the B.C. government) put some money back into the resources that are being taken out through northern B.C. as well as the NWT. I guess the most obvious barrier would be the road."

Parrish said education and training opportunities are also paramount and B.C. has a number of individuals with much-needed expertise as well as facilities such as Northern Lights College that offer industry-related courses.

"So, potentially, there's lots more than meets the eye in terms of the benefits that could result from a more formal co-operative agreement," he said, adding that Fort Liard is already looking into such initiatives at the community level.

One of the other issues related to the oil and gas industry, as well as the logging industry, is the deterioration of the highway, particularly Highway 77 on the B.C. side. Antoine noted that the B.C. government spent close to $1 million on the road this past year and he said he understands there's a five-year plan in the works to upgrade it further.

"We always had a problem with that highway," he said. "Their intention is to fix up that road. It will be a lot better to use in the future than it has been in the last little while," he said.

As for the NWT, Antoine said the GNWT spent $1 million in road improvements this year on the first 80 kilometres from the border heading north.

"It's a start," he said.

The two also discussed other economic development such as forestry. The majority of the logs felled in the NWT wind up in B.C., but Antoine said he'd prefer to see more secondary industry within the NWT.

"We're going to take a look at the forestry, the way they run it... and see how it works. Some parts of it may be applicable to us," he said.

Similar cooperation agreements have been signed in the past with Alberta, the Yukon and Nunavut, Antoine said.