Fracking divides the Northwest Territories

People in the Northwest Territories are divided over the potential benefits and risks of from fracking

Risks and opportunities seen by Northerners

ConocoPhillips wants to expand its camp at its fracking program in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories. (CBC)

Opportunities, and fears, about fracking are being debated around the Northwest Territories, while the divide over it continues to play out in the territorial legislature.

Oil and gas giant ConocoPhillips hopes to start using the controversial oil and gas extraction technique at two wells in the Sahtu region about 650 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife this winter.

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya says a recent fracking tour in North Dakota showed him it was possible to control risks when drilling horizontal wells .

“We came, we saw, we can frack. Hydraulic fracking in the Sahtu promises to secure our energy future if we do it right and responsibly," Yakeleya says.

He hopes to see fewer people in his region on income support as exploration picks up.

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley was also on the fracking tour and sees problems.

“Too many trucks on too many roads, too many wells flaring too much gas, too much fresh water going down the wells and too much dirty water coming back up. Too many pipelines, oil pipelines, gas pipelines, and produced water pipelines,” Bromley says.

He wonders how the government can manage the balance between the environment and resource development.

N.W.T. environment minister Michael Miltenberger insists the territory can balance the two and will be working with industry as well as land and water management boards.

Miltenberger adds the government has prepared guidelines for industry that explain what the territory views as best practices when drilling horizontal wells.

Silica sand potential

Meanwhile, the Northwest Territories government is looking at several silica sand deposits in the territory for use in the fracking process. One is at Whitebeach Point, 40 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife.

Bobby Drygeese, with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, is not sure if mining silica sand at Whitebeach Point  is a good thing.

“It's gonna scare the animals away and just it's gonna be a lot of people around and all the things going on,” Drygeese says.

He says many people use the area to hunt moose and caribou.

The World Health Organization has listed silica as a cancer causing agent.  Some say the lethal dust is easily airborne and hard to control.

Aurora Geosciences, a consulting and contracting company, has staked a claim at Whitebeach Point. It has until December to either develop it or extend the claim another year.

Hay River sees opportunities

In Hay River, about 150 kilometres south of Yellowknife, businesspeople want a piece of the oil play in the Sahtu if it comes to fruition.

The town is hundreds of kilometres from where the shale oil and gas would be extracted, but they say Hay River has business and transportation infrastructure that could play a part in future Sahtu development

The town of Hay River gave Husky Energy a tour in hopes of attracting future business. (CBC)

Wally Schumann owns Poison Graphics, a company that makes signs for roads and buildings. He says businesses have to be aggressive if they want to get in on the action.

"You don't think too much about signage in the oil business, but  there's signage on the lease. They're doing their $30 million road from the river to (the) site. There's safety signage on everything. There's safety signage walking into a catering operation. So those opportunities are coming,” Schumann says.

In mid-October the town gave oil giant Husky Energy a tour of the town.

Jordan Stackhouse, the town’s economic coordinator, says the company learned a lot about Hay River.

"It's a dot on the map, it's a town of 3,500 people and if you think about that in the context of another town of 3,500 people that's maybe closer to a larger centre, they don't have all the stuff we have or aren't able to provide all the stuff we are able to provide. So I think it was really kind of an eye opener for them saying, wow, you guys can build huge tanks and all the stuff that we need on our camps,” Stackhouse says.

Similar tours are planned for ConocoPhillips, MGM Energy and Shell in the near future.


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