Mackenzie Gas Project: the missing ICT link for Canada's Innovation Nation
January 5, 2010

January 5, 2010

Mackenzie Gas Project: the missing ICT link for Canada's Innovation Nation: Tech potential of communications was better recognized 40 years ago

The Joint Review Panel gave a green light to the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project, but omitted to include a wide-area fiber optics network in its recommendations.

Contact: Emily Boucher, Media Adviser at eboucher@cata.ca


Ottawa, ON - January 5, 2010 - The 16.2 billion dollar Mackenzie Gas Project was given a go-ahead last December 30th by the Joint Review Panel - an independent body with a mandate to evaluate the potential impacts of the proposed project on the environment and lives of the people in the project area.

"This mega project offered a significant opportunity to help build Canada's Innovation Nation," said CATAAlliance CEO, John Reid who pointed out that "the word telecommunications is not mentioned a single time in the report that was supposed to cover all expected benefits."1

He added, "The "core question" addressed by the Panel should have incited it to cover information and communication technology (ICT)."

THE CORE QUESTION
Can we be reasonably confident that the Project as Filed, if built and operated with full implementation of the Panel's recommendations, would deliver valuable and lasting overall benefits, and avoid significant adverse environmental impacts?
Foundation for a Sustainable Northern Future, p. 586

It took five years for the Joint Review Panel to produce their 679 page report which contains 176 recommendations covering all possible impacts on the environment and conformity to existing laws and regulations.

Reid noted, "While this cautious approach to possible environmental hazards is welcome (arctic ecosystem is both precious and fragile), we have to lament the lack of attention paid to the ICT dimension of the project."

Please take one minute to view CATAnet TV video on the Mackenzie Gas Project and then respond to the Call to Action and Mobilization Requests.

The laying of fiber optics along pipe-line facilities has become common practice in the industry. Indeed, optical sensor technology is commonly used for direct strain measurement in long, lineal structures such as pipeline systems. So it is a natural progression for oil and gas engineering and construction firms to work in the field of fiber optics. This trend is well described by a U.S. energy consultant: "Whether gas is flowing through a pipeline or light is traveling through a fiber optic line, many of the same planning and development principles are the same."

According to CATA's VP (Quebec) and Telecommunication expert, Jean Guy Rens: "Fiber optics is linked to pipelines as telegraphy was linked to railways in the 19th Century. Who would have thought about building the Canadian Pacific without a telegraph system to tell the arrival of the next train?" However this is the kind of omission the Joint Review Panel has made in its assessment of the Mackenzie Gas Project.

Rens added, "No wonder Canada is losing its grip on telecommunications. In the last 10 years, Canada has missed many opportunities to develop its telecommunications network. From number one in telecommunications, we have slid to the bottom of the industrialized world. The Mackenzie Gas Project is an historic opportunity that arises once or twice a century. It is time to realize the ICT aspects of the Project and advance our Innovation Nation."

The Mackenzie Valley pipeline has been talked about for a very long time, dating back to when the Natural gas fields were discovered in the Mackenzie Delta area in the 1970s. One of the submissions proposed at that time was the use of satellite communications to monitor the first proposed pipeline. Now the Mackenzie Valley pipeline is on its way thanks to improved technology and construction methods as well as support of the local populations. But both its promoters and the regulatory agencies seem to have neglected the ICT opportunities inherent in this mega project. The Government of Canada should pay attention to this gap that is crucial to accelerating the development of the Northern economy.

Inuvik is the largest Canadian community north of the Arctic Circle. This town of 3,500 inhabitants is expected to see its population multiplied by three when the pipeline will be completed and its economic growth will depend largely on the availability of broadband telecommunications. Just as the rest of the world, the road to prosperity of Inuvik and the North in general, is linked to the access to high speed Internet.

In the context of the industry's Innovation Nation Campaign, CEO Reid seized this opportunity to enjoin the Minister of Industry, Tony Clement, to consider adding the missing recommendation to the Panel's report:

He concluded, "There is a unique opportunity for Canada to assert its excellence in a field where it has a competitive advantage: telecommunications under a rigorous northern climate. The Mackenzie Gas project is not a simple energy project; it is a high tech endeavour where Canada can demonstrate its multiple engineering expertises it's an opportunity to advance our Innovation Nation. And we are missing the mark." 2

++ Call to Action:
MP and Community Mobilization
Please send electronically and/or print out and fax this communiquêand follow up with a phone call to the Minister of Industry, Tony Clement, local MPs, media and network of contacts, inclusive of posting on your social media. Please email jreid@cata.ca with Mackenzie Gas Project in the subject line.

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1The word "telephone" is mentioned once though: "The Panel observes that the basic utilities in the regional centres - water, sewer, waste disposal, electricity, telephone and Internet - are of a similar standard to those encountered in small towns in southern Canada, although in some cases at higher costs due in part to engineering challenges of cold weather and permafrost." Apart from being wrong (since the main city Inuvik is linked to the rest of the world by a micro-wave system that has a limited bandwidth compared to fiber optics available in southern Canada), this observation skips the fact that the situation could improve.
2 Dalton Alford Announces Expansion Into Telecommunications Project Management, Free Press Release, North Richland Hills, TX, November 15, 2009.