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Thursday, March 24, 2005

McKenzie Pipeline: The overlooked battle in Canada

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on Canada's effort to build the $6 billionMcKenzie Pipeline in its western Arctic territories bordering Alaska. The pipeline would tap natural gas to fuel a project 800 miles south in Alberta to strip-mine tar sands for converstion into petroleum fuel, a global resource said to be second only to Saudi Arabia's oil reserves.

The project is likely to transform the Canadian Arctic in many ways. Native tribes call it a government grab for tribal lands. Enviros say it's a boondoggle that will accelerate global warming.

Three tribes have allied themselves with the oil and gas companies behind the pipeline. One, ironically, is the Gwichin, which opposes ANWR drilling. Fighting the project is the Deh Cho First Nation, which occupies the southern third of the pipeline route.

The proposal is incredibly resource-intensive and would occur over a region the size of Florida. Two tons of sand must be processed to make a single 42-gallon barrel of oil. Then there are the resource impacts associated with the pipeline.

The Canadian government is not required to seek Parliament's approval for the project, and construction could start as soon as 2007. Meanwhile, U.S. officials say Canada seeks a competitive advantage for its own pipeline by delaying approval of a separate 3,500-mile gas pipeline from Alaska's North Slope into Canada. Revenues from that pipeline are said to be crucial to developing oil at ANWR.

The U.S. is also concerned about China's efforts to obtain long-term contracts for the tar-sands oil. "We're in a race for energy supplies, and we can't allow China to win this one," Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy told the Chron.