Bob McLeod announced to an Ottawa reception Thursday evening that he's launching a year-long feasibility study that will examine an energy, communications and transportation corridor up the Mackenzie Valley.
"We know we need to find a way to get our resources to market and it is time for us to take a serious look at the northern option," McLeod said in his speech, the text of which was distributed to media before the event.
McLeod told the reception, which included Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford and a number of provincial premiers in town for Friday's Council of the Federation meeting, that the study participants will include aboriginal governments, the public, and the federal and Alberta governments.
"I want to be clear that we are not proposing a specific infrastructure project with this study," he said.
However McLeod has made no secret over the past two years that he is actively promoting the concept of an "Arctic Gateway" that could move Alberta oil, as well as territorial oil and gas and mineral wealth, to a port on the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk.
Last Septemer he told a Washington audience that with protesters opposing proposed routes like the Keystone XL pipeline south, the Northern Gateway line to B.C. and the Energy East pipeline to Atlantic Canada, "we have no choice but to go north."
"The challenge of getting resources to tidewater is not ours alone," McLeod told the Ottawa reception. "It is shared with other jurisdictions and finding collective solutions to shared problems only makes sense."
The N.W.T. premier met this week with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other ministers, as well as the American and Chinese ambassadors to Canada, among other diplomats.
The federal government welcomes responsible proposals for resource development, an official said Thursday, and agrees on the importance of reviewing the "opportunities and challenges" before development can go ahead.
In an interview, McLeod maintained that an oil pipeline from Alberta's oil sands north to the Arctic Ocean is not the driving force behind developing the Mackenzie Valley corridor.
"What's driving it is we (in the N.W.T.) have stranded resources and we see what's happening in other jurisdictions, where it's very difficult to get these pipeline projects approved," said McLeod.
The Mackenzie Valley is emblematic of Canada's first big pipeline battle back in the 1970s, when a proposed natural gas pipeline from the Beaufort Sea sparked a lengthy inquiry. Market changes, native land claim disputes, environmental concerns and changes in government delayed a resolution for decades until the pipeline was finally approved in 2011. It has yet to be built.
McLeod said that past informs the decision to launch a study now, even without a specific project in mind.
"We think it's very important because we've had situations where uncertainty has prevented us from succeeding, so we think that by taking this approach we will be able to take advantage when the oil and gas (market) does recover," McLeod told The Canadian Press.
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