Deep water port in Tuktoyaktuk could bring business to N.W.T.

A deep water port in Tuktoyaktuk could mean the difference between the N.W.T. benefiting from oil and gas exploration and getting shut out, says a report called 'Base for the Beaufort.'
Doug Matthews, who authored the report on building a deep water port in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., says oil and gas companies are quite capable of coming in with their own equipment. A deep water port would be a way of ensuring the N.W.T. benefits from the activity. (David Thurton/CBC)

A deep water port in Tuktoyaktuk could mean the difference between the N.W.T. benefiting from oil and gas exploration and getting shut out, says a report released a month ago.

“The companies have said they are quite capable of coming in. They would bring in all their own equipment,” says the report’s author Doug Matthews. “They would bring in all their own facilities and they would do their drilling and they would float away.”

The report — titled Base for the Beaufort — is part of the larger Base for the Beaufort Project that began four years ago with the support of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and funding from CanNor, the IRC and the N.W.T. government.

It highlights key issues Tuktoyaktuk and other surrounding communities would need to consider if they decided to build a port in Tuktoyaktuk.

Matthews says drilling in the Beaufort Sea’s deep waters pose great environmental risks to the region, and communities like Tuktoyaktuk must be compensated for taking on that risk.

Building key infrastructure, Matthew says, like a port, would offer Northern residents and local businesses a direct opportunity to profit from offshore activity.

A local port that would be used by oil and gas companies could be managed by northern businesses and provide jobs to northerners.

“What we are trying to say to the companies is, ‘Working with you, we will try to figure out a way that we can develop facilities that would be cost effective for you, will be useful for you but will also benefit local residents.’”

The report doesn’t recommend that a port should be built in Tuktoyaktuk, Matthews says. It only outlines the key factors residents, governments and aboriginal organizations need to consider.

Harbour would need to be dredged

One such key factor is the shallowness of the harbour. While Tuktoyaktuk’s harbour was used extensively during the oil boom of the 1970s and 1980s, the report says the harbour is too small to accommodate large vessels that deep sea exploration would bring.

“In fact, there will be no such access for the drillships,” the report says.

To allow these ships to dock, the harbour would need to be dredged.

The report estimates it would cost $100 million dollars over the next four years to dredge a 22 kilometre channel from Tuktoyaktuk’s harbour into the deeper waters of the Beaufort Sea.

Alternatively, the report suggests the port could be moved to wherever the water is deep enough.

It suggests the ships could anchor at a midway point in the deepest waters in the Beaufort Sea and then smaller ships would transfer materials to the harbour.

Navigational data, it says, would also need to be developed for ships.

“In the Canadian Arctic there are little or no critical infrastructure assets to support vessel navigation,” the report says.

“Coastal waters, where most vessels now operate, are poorly charted, lack aids to navigation and ports of refuge, and have limited communications infrastructure.”

Environmental concerns

Although no proposal for a port has been submitted, environmental concerns are being raised about the project already.

James Pokiak, a hunter and fisherman, worries about the impact a deep sea port would have on the fish and belugas he harvests nearby.

“It’s going to have an impact. Especially for the fishing in the harbour. The beluga whales that we harvest in the summertime, there’s going to be more chances of them being scared away from the shipping traffic,” Pokiak says.

Pokiak says if the idea for a port becomes a formal proposal, he hopes a thorough environmental review will be done that studies how a port would impact wildlife and harvesters like him.