Smoky River Regional Economic Development
The Alberta economy took a pretty hard hit with sudden and dramatic drop in the price of oil. Recently the Alberta government released the government deficit at 6.4 billion dollars. According to finance minister, Joe Ceci, 90 per cent of that, or 6.1 billion is directly because of the drop in the price of oil.
Recent newspaper reports speculate on whether the price of oil will go up or down and when that will happen. But even if the price of oil were to return to 2015 prices, or even close to that, Alberta’s oil woes will not be resolved.
Alberta is landlocked and with insufficient pipelines to transport our oil to world markets, we will be challenged, regardless of the price of oil, and there doesn’t seem to be a quick solution to our transportation problem.
Most recently The Federal Court of Appeal overturned approval of Enbridge’s controversial Northern Gateway project after finding “Ottawa failed to properly consult the First Nations affected by the pipeline. We find that Canada offered only a brief, hurried and inadequate opportunity … to exchange and discuss information and to dialogue,” the ruling says.
Other pipelines proposals are faring no better. So how does Alberta get its oil to tide waters? Well there is another option and while some may question the viability of it, it is definitely worth further investigation.
A consortium of businessman called Generating for Seven Generations (G7G) has a proposal to build a rail line from Fort McMurray to Alaska. The purpose of the rail line would be transport oil to Alaska, specifically Valdez, where our oil would be welcomed and able to be shipped by tanker to foreign markets.
The rail line would run north of the Smoky region toward Fort Nelson, British Columbia and then north to the Yukon and on to Delta Junction, Alaska. From Delta Junction our oil would enter the Trans Alaska pipeline System to Valdez.
The G7G proposal is ambitious. Hundreds of miles of railway must be built through a variety of terrain, much of it marsh land. Government approvals, provincial, federal and US, all need to be navigated. Right-of-ways for the rail line need to be negotiated. And perhaps most importantly a lot of people need to be convinced this is an opportunity worth pursuing.
But unlike the Northern Gateway Pipeline which must now go back to the drawing board, the G&G proposal may be one step ahead: they have the support of the First Nations through out the proposed route. The Alberta government also, initially invested in 2012, $1.8 million dollars into the prefeasibility study.
The other factor that may make this initiative worth further investigation is the recent wildfire in Fort McMurray. The massive wildfire highlighted the importance and the necessity of ensuring that communities have alternate exit routes in the eventuality of another such fire.
The Fort McMurray wildfire was the third in recent years, the other two being the Slave Lake fire and the Zama City fire, highlighting the reality that forest fires are a real issue in northern Alberta.
The proposed rout for the G&G rail line could be developed as a transportation corridor, incorporating a rail line, a road and even telecommunications.
Other advantages of the proposed rail line include the opportunity to move other northern commodities such as agriculture and forest products. That would be achieved by building rail spurs that would connect many northern Alberta communities to the main line.
The provincial and federal governments need to develop an energy strategy to move Alberta oil. And they need to ask if the G7G proposal is any more ambitious that any of the presently proposed pipelines. Perhaps the G7G proposal is not so ambitious after all.