Sahtu water board pressured to fast-track fracking project

Some business people in Norman Wells, N.W.T., are urging the Sahtu Land and Water Board to fast-track a drilling project near the town. It would be the first horizontal drilling project in the territory.

Some businesses urge board not to approve project without environmental assessment

Some business people in Norman Wells, N.W.T., are urging the Sahtu Land and Water Board to fast-track a drilling project near the town.

ConocoPhillips Canada wants to drill and frack two horizontal wells. If approved, it would be the first time the controversial method of exploration has been used in the Northwest Territories.

Residents of Norman Wells, N.W.T., attend a session on fracking given by the National Energy Board and the territorial government in February. Some residents have sent letters of support for a ConocoPhillips fracking project to the Sahtu Land and Water Board. (CBC)

Many residents of the town have written letters to the Sahtu Land and Water Board in favour of the project and asking that its exploration stage not be subject to an environmental assessment.

A year and a half ago, MGM Energy and Shell Canada proposed a similar project. When the land and water board ordered an environmental assessment, they withdrew their application.

Business people in the region are worried that could happen again.

"We'd like to see continued future development," said Chris Buist with the Norman Wells Chamber of Commerce.

"Even though we want to do it safely and environmentally friendly, we definitely need this economic opportunity within our region."

Fracking is a controversial process that involves pumping thousands of barrels of chemicals into the well to open up cracks in rock.

"Since we are in the initial exploration stage on our exploration licence, we're uncertain at this point in time if there are flowable hydrocarbons on our block, so we believe in the exploration stage that an environmental assessment isn't necessary," said Eric Hanson, ConocoPhillips's supervisor for the central Mackenzie Valley.

ConocoPhillips is not saying how it would react to an environmental assessment.

"That's something we would have to evaluate at the time of the environmental assessment," Hanson said.

Darren Campbell, editor of Alberta Oil magazine, said ConocoPhillips shouldn't be surprised if an environmental assessment is ordered on the first horizontal fracking project in the territory.

"Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is very new to the Northwest Territories," he said. "People there are not nearly as familiar with it as they are in Alberta or northeastern B.C."

No date has been set for a decision on the project.

There are currently moratoriums on fracking in Quebec and Nova Scotia.