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Where pipe dreams, fears collide

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While not a rich community, Fort Simpson has amenities and advances are being made. High-speed Internet became available in December. It is progress that's underpinned by oil and gas, Mr. Norwegian says, fuels that make everything from snowmobiles to air ambulances possible.

It is divides that define pipeline talk, divides that run so deep that getting to this week for public hearings has taken more than three decades. A pipeline was proposed and rejected in the 1970s, before land claims had been settled.

Work began anew in 2000 -- six years ago. "I understand what [Herb] is talking about but I believe what I'm doing is right," Robert Norwegian says. "But how can you say no to a lifeline that keeps you alive? That's what I say."

Pipeline primer

The proposed Mackenzie Valley gas project would be the biggest construction effort ever in the Northwest Territories, consisting of two pipelines and three major gas field developments.

The main 30-inch gas pipeline would begin near Inuvik and run 1,194 kilometres to northern Alberta.

The Aboriginal Pipeline Group, made up of three northern first nations organizations, would own one-third of the main pipeline.

The cost of the entire project is estimated at $7.5-billion, with roughly $4-billion for the main pipelines and $3.5-billion for fields and gathering systems.

The project would cut through mostly untouched wilderness and spur further development, raising environmental issues.

First nations peoples are worried about traditional ways of living off the land and how many benefits -- jobs, cash -- they will see from the project.

Imperial Oil, the main proponent, says the project is only marginally profitable and worries cost will escalate further. A 10-inch pipeline from Inuvik to Norman Wells would carry gas liquids -- very light oil -- and connect with an existing Enbridge crude line.

The fields -- Taglu, Niglintgak and Parsons Lake -- contain about six trillion cubic feet of gas, which once connected would increase Canada's proved reserves by 10 per cent and are enough to warm all Canadian gas-heated homes for six years.

Arctic ventures

As hearings begin into the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, Report On Business energy reporter Dave Ebner, in a three-day series, examines the $7.5-billion plan to slake the South's thirst for natural gas. Tomorrow: Paving the way for a new gas route, one deal at a time. Wednesday: The North gets industrious.

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