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Analysis of the Impact of the Berger Inquiry

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Before the Berger Inquiry

Oil and gas has been part of the economy and Canadian arctic for a long time. Aboriginals long used oil for things such as land construction and especially in their productions of the canoe. For trade, oil was used amongst themselves. From this, early Western explorers saw oil potentially available. This led to the early drilling in the oil industry. The first well was established in 1922 at Norman Wells. Prior to 1970 oil and gas was a small industry in the Arctic. It was generally shipped to the South for refining and distribution in the market. These southern markets wanted to take full advantage of the oil and gas reserves available in the North. So the dilemma on oil in 1973 involving O.P.E.C grabbed the interest of many companies to push for large projects promoting the construction of a pipeline. There were two competitive pipelines introduced. The first was the ‘Canadian Arctic Gas Pipeline Ltd.’, which included companies such as Exxon, Shell, and TransCanada. They proposed a route from the fields of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska across Northern Yukon to the Mackenzie Delta, then south through the Mackenzie Valley to Alberta. This proposal was of the larger scale intended to cover 3,860km. The second and much shorter pipeline proposed was the ‘Foothills Pipeline Ltd.’. This route would begin at the Mackenzie Delta and run along the Mackenzie Valley through to Alberta.

Who was Thomas Berger

Thomas Berger was a lawyer, judge and humanitarian in Vancouver from 1957 to 1971. He was appointed to the counsel for plaintiffs of historic Aboriginal rights, where he considered proposals for pipelines and researched how they would affect the Northern environment socially, economically, and environmentally. From 1974 to 1977 Berger was the commissioner of the ‘Mackenzie Valley Pipeline’. In this he made the decision to reject the pipeline. (McClelland & Stewart. (1999). Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: Canadian Publishers.)

How did the Berger Inquiry work?

Everyone who wished to be part of the research campaign was able to voice their opinions and concerns. In order to control and regulate the Northern lands, the Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development appointed Thomas Berger to be in charge of handling the social, economic and environmental impacts on the North. Thomas gained the power to bring about evidence through organized hearings in Canada. These hearings included all the Mackenzie Valley communities. Berger ensured everyone was included with translating every hearing for those who needed it. A fund was established to support all participants.

Berger Report 1970’s

Between May and June of 1977 Thomas Berger released a 240-page report. The inquiry leading up to the report totaled $5.3 million. The principle of the report suggested that no pipeline be built. Berger recommended that the pipeline construction be delayed for at least ten years. This was to ensure that all Native land claims be settled first. The report was significantly entitled, ‘Northern Homeland, Northern Frontier’. Berger stated, “We look upon the North as our last frontier. It is natural for us to think of developing it, of subduing the land and extracting its resources to fuel Canada’s industry and heat our homes….but the Native people say the North is their homeland. They have lived there for thousands of years. They claim it is their land, and they believe they have a right to say what its’ future ought to be.” Extracting resources to fuel Canada’s industry according to Berger was simply wrong and detrimental to the Northern lands

The New Mackenzie Pipeline Proposal 2004

Native groups today aren’t fighting the destruction of their land the way they did in the 70’s. Rather, they are now partnering up on the pipeline construction to get a 30 percent cut from oil companies. The Alberta tar sands are the last reserves and companies want to take advantage of the supply. In order to pursue this operation of pollution there needs to be an ample supply of natural gas, which could pose a problem. Over half of Canada’s oil and over 60 percent of it’s natural gas production goes to the U.S. Canada is obliged through NAFTA to legally maintain this quota until we run out of these resources. When this happens we have to cut back on our own energy use in proportion to the U.S. Still, three of four First Nations Communities and many of the young radicals who were against the pipeline in the 70’s have now joined the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, for the construction. The extraction and refining process is said to produce more than two and a half times more greenhouse gases than regular oil. Creating a 42 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions. This is a problem because we are supposed to be aiming for a 26 percent decrease, therefore destroying our Kyoto target. Sierra Club of Canada’s Stephen Hazel states, “The evidence we have is that the tar sands will take all the gas the Mackenzie Project can produce….They don’t have nearly enough natural gas right now to fuel the expansion of the sands they’re thinking about.” This according to activists is okay if Canada can just secure their title to the second-biggest oil reserve outside Saudi Arabia. This will be the largest project in Canadian history and will just like everything else bad for the economy, generate excellent revenues for the government.

TransCanada is playing a role in the construction of the pipeline. The head of TransCanada has high optimism that the federal government will settle the dispute with the Deh Cho First Nations to ensure the building of the pipeline. Hal Kvisle, head of TransCanada proposed an even larger pipeline. The Alaskan pipeline, which is 50 times more complicated. The Mackenzie Valley pipeline must be built before the Alaskan in order for it not to be shelved as it was in the past. The U.S Congress has approved $18 billion to loan for the Alaskan pipeline. This pipeline would be an extension of the Canadian Mackenzie Valley and targeted to be complete in 2010.

The Deh Cho First Nations are against the construction of a pipeline. Their land covers the lower 40 percent of proposed land for the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. Deh Cho filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the operation until they can appoint two new people to give approval. The Deh Cho claim they are being discriminated against because they have not yet been able to negotiate on their land claims with the Canadian government and that action has been forced on them by the federal government. A chief representative says, “We are simply asking the court to recognize our right to have a say in this project….we could not just sit and watch as other people made the decisions on what is best for us.”

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