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Stern words on Arctic gas

James Menzies
Northern News Services

Calgary (Mar 14/05) - The fifth annual Arctic Gas Symposium in Calgary served as a stark reminder that cashing in on the North's riches can't be taken for granted.

Roland George, of the energy consulting firm Purvin & Gertz, warned other energy alternatives, including coal bed methane and deep-water gas reserves, could fill the void left by Arctic natural gas if producers and government don't soon proceed with work in the North.

Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski is questioned by media after strongly suggesting Canada get moving on its proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. - James Menzies/NNSL photo

"Is Arctic gas absolutely necessary? No!" he said. "It's not the only game in town."

Particularly when it comes to negotiating agreements between industry, government and aboriginal groups, he said there's plenty of room for error - especially in the NWT.

"The basic assumption is reasonable people will come up with reasonable solutions," he said of the haggling between the Dehcho First Nations (DFN) and Ottawa.

Pointing to the ongoing labour dispute between the NHL and its players association, however, he added that's not always the case.

"All parties should keep that in mind," he said, adding it's fortunate Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow aren't involved in talks between Ottawa and the DFN.

NWT Premier Joe Handley made an appearance at the symposium to trumpet the benefits of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline over its Alaska Highway competitor.

"It's too advanced, desirable, necessary and beneficial for us to allow it to fail," Handley said.

Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski's response was simple - you can go first, but you'd better get moving.

"The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline could be and should be first," said Murkowski.

"We're not giving you advice, but we strongly suggest that you get on with the Mackenzie Pipeline."

It was also revealed at the symposium the projected cost of building the Alaska Highway Pipeline has increased by about $3 billion to roughly $10 billion total. George said the price of steel is mainly to blame. Hart Searle, spokesman for Imperial Oil, denied the Mackenzie Valley projections were undergoing similar adjustments due to steel costs.

"Our estimate is still in the order of $7 billion Canadian," he said.

- with files from Stephan Burnett