Bob McLeod: Arctic Oil and Gas Symposium Keynote Address

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Good morning and welcome, friends from the circumpolar Arctic, and thank you all for attending and taking part in this important industry forum today.

I would like to first acknowledge that we stand on the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy.

We all share similar challenges and obstacles in the current economic climate and this period of unprecedented change in the resource industry. Many of us here in this room are looking for innovative ideas to build upon the strong foundations already in place to help prepare for our future growth and development. This common ground is important and it will be a key factor in strategic, collaborative initiatives that can help lay the groundwork for a brighter future for all those operating within the resource industry.

It is also in this spirit of common ground that Canada’s Premiers met last week to discuss the issues our country faces. Particularly relevant to each of us here, we spoke on the need to move our resources to market in a responsible, timely, predictable, and sustainable manner. This was highlighted by the importance of collaborating with our friends across the country to forward our collective goals. This is, and will always be, important to the success of everyone in this room.

Most of you are quite well-versed in all things NWT, so I will not take too much of your time telling you what you may already know; however, there are a few items that are always important to remember and some new developments to highlight.

The Northwest Territories is still a land of astounding unrealized natural resource potential, with 1.3 million square kilometres of some of the world’s last stable — and relatively untapped — natural resources deposits. The Northwest Territories is one of the remaining frontiers of exploration and development.

Our vast petroleum resources, in particular, are a major prize awaiting us. Approximately 16.2 trillion cubic feet of conventional natural gas, and 1.2 billion barrels of conventional oil have already been discovered in the NWT. And there is likely even more yet to be found.

For example, resource assessments of the Bluefish and Canol shale deposits indicate median estimates of 191 billion barrels of oil-in-place. If even one percent of these estimates are marketable, that’s still 1.9 billion barrels of marketable product that would create jobs and generate revenue for our people and our industry.

It’s also important to mention that our last big year for exploration licences was 2011, when the action was in the Canol Shale near Norman Wells. This means there may be prime petroleum lands becoming available again in 2017 and 2018 depending on decisions made by current interest holders over the coming two years.

What is perhaps the most exciting news; The Northwest Territories now have some extraordinary results to report from the Liard Basin, which we share with British Columbia and the Yukon. Unconventional resource assessments for the Basin show expected marketable natural gas resources at 219 trillion cubic feet. This includes an estimated 44 trillion cubic feet of marketable gas in the Upper Besa River/Exshaw shale, and an expected 187 trillion cubic feet of gas-in-place in the Lower Besa River/Horn River shale – all within the Northwest Territories. The Lower Besa River/Horn River shale could also yield an estimated 33 trillion cubic feet of marketable gas resource. 

This total estimated NWT marketable gas resource potential of 77 trillion cubic feet is highly encouraging and could produce many jobs and billions in revenue if the project is pursued with responsibility and vigour.

The bottom line is: there are major benefits to be had here for all, but it will take responsibility, innovation, evolution, investment, and collaboration.

The Northwest Territories is going back to the basics. We are taking the time to develop the tools we need to foster the oil and gas sector we would like to see in the future by focusing on streamlining our land tenure regime. One major initiative is an ‘always-open’ Call for Nominations for land tenure and rights issuance processes. We will be sending out annual reminders to companies and media to encourage companies to nominate petroleum lands of interest, which can be included in a Call for Bids as long as the land isn’t constrained from a land use perspective.  This reduces barriers for industry investors and lends greater efficiency to dealings with the public sector.

We will also be looking closely at our current legislation to see where improvements can be made. With Devolution, we inherited a legislative regime that wasn’t necessarily tailored to our economic realities. It is an ideal time to take on this endeavour as the federal government begins their own review of the Canada Petroleum Resources Act upon which our own legislation is mirrored. This is a long overdue as there have been no significant adjustments to the Act since its introduction in 1985; an important detail as the act remains devoid of any references to unconventional resources found in shale and tight rocks.

The Oil and Gas Operations Act — the NWT’s other key oil and gas legislation — also has areas where improvements can be made in this time of decreased industry activity. By taking this time to prepare for the sector’s revitalization, we can do our part to bring renewed interest, focus, and accessibility to oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.

Our government is aware of the lack of certainty in land use structure and the challenge this poses for the natural resource industries. Our Government will work tirelessly to equitably settle outstanding land claims with our Aboriginal partners so that certainty may be gained for industry, and economic prosperity may be realized for Northwest Territories residents.

We will continue to pursue a spirit of friendship and collaboration in our dealings with our Aboriginal partners in pursuit of a strong, inclusive natural resource sector.

As part of the Government of the Northwest Territories commitment to ensuring that all residents benefit from the development of natural resources, we have decided to share up to a quarter of our resource revenues with participating Aboriginal governments. We are doing so through our pioneering Intergovernmental Council, in which Aboriginal governments are equals in land and resource management in the NWT.

It is within the context of partnership that we will continue assessing resource potential in our territory. Now that we have an idea of the magnitude of our natural gas resources in the Northwest Territories, we will continue assessing other regions of presumed potential across our territory. As more defined resource potential is discovered, our region will become more attractive to potential investors, and more benefits may be shared with all of our citizens.

In the NWT we also understand that we must pursue the development of these resources with care. Our government is dedicated to responsible development that is sensitive to the priorities of Northerners around both economic development and protection of our land, wildlife and water. The abilities we were given through Devolution will ensure we are able to responsively address any regulatory and legislative issues which may arise.

The Northwest Territories faces many challenges in unlocking our resource potential. Our weather presents difficulties. Costs are higher than in other jurisdictions. Our transportation infrastructure is underdeveloped — oftentimes rendering our resources stranded. With our sprawling land to manage and the population of a small city, we are unable to realize the strategic projects to bring closure to these challenges on our own — and I know this is the case for many of us here today from the circumpolar North.

The way forward will be unique Arctic leadership and innovation. Even in the context of today’s networked global economy, the world’s Arctic regions are, for the most part, not intertwined. To address the important issues we face, Northerners must come together with big ideas and find solutions. We are a region with the smarts and the passion to make wise investments in breakthrough research, just as we will continue to forge partnerships with our southern neighbours to pursue mutually beneficial goals.

Shared multi-use corridors, including roads, pipelines, transmission lines, and fibre-optic lines, can link our people, power, resources, and information like never before. Ports on the Beaufort Sea can open our Arctic to shipping and responsible resource development while beefing up security and spill response capabilities. Research and technology initiatives can bring us to cutting-edge innovations and safe, effective, and efficient means to advance environmentally and socially responsible Northern development at lower costs. This is the kind of progress we should be pursuing together as constituents and stakeholders of the circumpolar region.

Prime Minister Trudeau and President Barack Obama spoke on much of this in their joint statement on Arctic leadership last week. The NWT welcomes the prioritization and focus on the Arctic by Canada and the US and we look forward to contributing our Northern perspective, experience, and strong voice to collaborative Arctic work among national and sub-national jurisdictions.

As we face what we all know to be a downswing in commodity prices, we must remember that waves always have peaks and troughs and that prices will return to form. There is no lack of good news on the exploration front; the Liard discovery is one of the most significant petroleum finds in the North in many years.

Taking the time to look inward and address the needs of our jurisdictions will put us in an enviable position to best capitalize on our petroleum resources for the betterment of our people. Lowering industry costs will enable us to retain investment and activity to grow our production.  The NWT is proud to be taking action to lead in this area so that we are ready to ride the next peak in commodity prices.

Thank you.