Wally Schumann: Arctic Oil and Gas Symposium Keynote Address

Delivered on March 15, 2017

Good morning. Thank you for inviting me here today to speak about oil and gas in the Northwest Territories.

It is my pleasure to be here this week – and to be joined by a number of representatives from both the NWT’s territorial and Aboriginal governments.  It was good to see many of you at last night’s Northern Oil and Gas open house, and to share in a number of the conversations that were held.  I encourage you to seek us out. You will discover that we share a great deal of common ground.

Many of you heard Premier Bob McLeod speak about the need for a vision. I share in that desire to build a sustainable development strategy for the North that will give us the foundation to begin moving the Northwest Territories forward. If we want to progress, we have to work with our neighbours in Nunavut and the Yukon, and carve a visionary path to future prosperity that will benefit generations of Northerners to come. It’s no secret that the oil and gas industry in the North faces a series of challenges many would say are insurmountable. Like the Premier, I too am not willing to give up, and firmly believe that a thriving oil and gas industry that benefits us all is in the future for the Northwest Territories.

Like many of you, we are looking to build on our strengths – and to position ourselves for future growth and development.  In order to do that, we need partners and investors that are willing to work with our government, our people and their businesses to position our territory for a future in oil and gas development. The Northwest Territories oil and gas industry will be a reality and the long-term investment from all of us will pay off when the market rebounds.

The Northwest Territories is 1.3 million square kilometres of some of the world’s last stable — and untapped — natural resource deposits. According to the National Energy Board, there is approximately 16.2 trillion cubic feet of marketable conventional natural gas; 1.2 billion barrels of marketable conventional oil have already been discovered in the NWT. And there remains more to be found.

In unconventional source rock, the magnitude of our resources is even greater. Resource assessments of the Bluefish and Canol shale deposits in the Sahtu region indicated median estimates of 191 billion barrels of oil-equivalent in-place. If even one percent of these estimates are marketable, that’s 1.9 billion barrels of product with which we will attract investment, create jobs, stimulate business opportunities and generate revenue for our governments and territory. 

In the Canol and Bluefish shales near Norman Wells, some of the existing exploration licenses have expired, leaving this petroleum-rich land open to new opportunities.  We are prepared to work closely with anyone interested in investing in this area.

Meanwhile, the Liard Basin unconventional gas play offers 219 trillion cubic feet in shared resources with BC and Yukon — and all near existing infrastructure.  Our share is an estimated 77 trillion cubic feet – which means even more jobs and business for NWT residents and, once developed, billions in industry and government revenues.  

With its proximity to Alberta and BC, the cost of development and accessing existing infrastructure in this region is considerably lower.  Going forward, it is a region in which we believe industry is well advised to pursue exploration and development.

The value of oil and gas resources in the NWT is incredible.  And, the development of those resources will have a transformative effect on our economy.

We know that because of the realities of today’s marketplace, the viability of oil and gas development in the North faces serious challenge.  So we are moving forward during this down time with a suite of initiatives that we have identified to improve the business case for petroleum development in the Northwest Territories that will be informed by our goal to create a long-term sustainable development strategy for the North.

This summer, our government intends to introduce a balanced and made-in-the-NWT approach to advancing oil and gas development in our territory.

It will come in the form of a new strategy created and informed through direct engagement with industry, NWT leaders, Aboriginal governments and our many oil and gas stakeholders.  We believe that our strategy represents an approach to oil and gas development that NWT residents and businesses can both support and benefit from – and one that will help to restore investor confidence and investment in our territory.

Our government also intends to exercise its new legislative authorities to shape a stronger investment landscape for our North.

Specifically, we have begun work on enhancing the legislative framework governing oil and gas development in the NWT - to streamline and strengthen our regulatory and legislative regimes. In part, our aim is to eliminate redundancies in the regulatory process and modernize our acts to work with contemporary market conditions.

We have already taken steps to simplify our land tenure regime.  Expressions of interest are always open on available land.  Annual reminders will soon be on their way to encourage interest in prospective lands which can be included in a formal Call for Bids.  In total, available lands total almost 100,000 square kilometres – an area larger than New Brunswick and PEI combined.

We understand the importance of land use certainty when it comes to attracting investment. In order to realize economic prosperity for our residents and greater certainty for industry, we continue to settle outstanding land claims with our Aboriginal partners.

Last night, of course, we celebrated the progress that has been made in completing a lands, resources and self-government Final Agreement with the Acho Dene Koe First Nation.  Many of the comments made last night by both Premier McLeod and Chief Harry Deneron highlighted the relationship that we have with Aboriginal governments in resource development. 

It is a relationship that is second to none in Canada and one through which we foster the public support necessary for responsible resource projects to move forward.  

In January, we were pleased to work with members of four Aboriginal governments to promote the NWT’s collective mining interests at the AME Mineral Roundup in Vancouver. We foresee a future when we do the same for our oil and gas resources.

We have an example in the Aboriginal Pipeline Group of how our Aboriginal partners could play a full role in energy infrastructure projects.  Acho Dene Koe First Nations Chief Harry Deneron is a shining example of the leadership from our Aboriginal governments that will play an integral part in shaping a prosperous future for our territory.

Immediately, prior to this conference, our Government facilitated a think tank of Aboriginal and government partners on the subject of transportation  corridors — not just pipelines – but railways, highways, waterways, fibre optic infrastructure and transmission lines that can play an important role in realizing our North’s resource and economic potential.

New road corridor projects such as the Mackenzie Valley Highway and Slave Geological Province Access Corridor will mitigate impacts of climate change, connect our communities to each other and the rest of Canada, and increase the safety, reliability, and resiliency of the transportation system. At the same time, these new links would also enable new trade opportunities and economic prosperity.

The final report of the Canada Transportation Act (CTA) Review Panel recommended federal investment in northern transportation corridors, including the Mackenzie Valley Highway Corridor and Slave Geological Province Access. During the federal government’s engagement on the findings of the report, the GNWT and other NWT stakeholders indicated their strong support for the federal government’s timely implementation of these recommendations, which would have a long lasting impact on the North. We need the Federal government to invest in the Northern infrastructure system in order for the Northwest Territories to benefit from its natural resources. Federal investment will spur our economy and we need them to show natural resource development isn’t just for Southern Canada.

For the most part, the oil and gas and energy infrastructure that we need is not in place.  But like so many pivotal moments in our territory’s history, we see this as an opportunity to shape our future with our trademark ingenuity and resilience.  That’s what our workshop was about: harnessing the skills, experience, creativity and passion that exists in the North to find bold new ways to develop northern corridors and resources.

We are already beginning to see the benefit of that partnership with the federal government. Construction will begin this summer on another leg of the Mackenzie Valley Highway from Norman Wells to Canyon Creek. And, we are looking forward to pushing our interests further as Canada’s proposed Infrastructure Bank ramps up and takes effect.

This work goes hand-in-hand with our work to advance a deep-water port in the Arctic. This will open access to international markets and decrease costs for industry while meeting federal objectives for getting Canadian resources to market quickly, safely, and efficiently.

I look forward to leading the push on these commitments for the benefit of the NWT — but I also believe there is a bigger picture at play in the future of Arctic oil and gas.  In a broad sense, it will be important that we not only work on improving our own jurisdictions, but across our borders to see mutually beneficial projects through.

Shared multi-use corridors, including roads, pipelines, railways, transmission lines, and fibre-optic lines can link our people, power, resources, and information like never before.

Ports on the Arctic coast can open our region up to shipping and responsible resource development while beefing up security, environmental monitoring and spill response capabilities.

Research and technology can bring us cutting-edge innovations and safe, effective, efficient ways to advance environmentally and socially responsible Northern development at lower costs. This is the kind of progress we should be pursuing. And we should be pursuing it together as constituents and stakeholders of the circumpolar region.

By doing so, we can usher in a strong future in a region often challenged by economies of scale and the expense of doing business and  become leaders in the global marketplace.

Thank you.