The Sahtu regional government has received backing from the federal and territorial governments in its attempts to force Imperial Oil to follow the local land and water board’s rules for cleanup and remediation.
Both federal and territorial officials added their support to the Sahtu Secretariat Inc.’s (SSI) rebuke of Imperial for attempting to evade rules requiring the company to provide a security deposit guaranteeing its financial ability to eventually clean up the site.
Imperial, which has drilled oil in the Norman Wells area for over 70 years, is currently applying for a final 10-year extension to its water license that expires at the end of August.
Late last month, Imperial wrote to the Sahtu Land and Water Board (SLWB) expressing its reticence to recognize rules established by local authorities, claiming the National Energy Board has jurisdiction over Imperial’s Norman Wells operations, as per an agreement signed in 1944, and not the SLWB.
“A confidential agreement has been entered into between the Government of Canada and Imperial Oil whereby funds are withdrawn from the revenue stream due to Her Majesty, and held in trust, to cover Her Majesty’s share of the abandonment liability,” states the letter in regards to remediation.
Earlier this month, the SSI wrote a scathing reply, calling Imperial’s assertions “troubling” and inconsistent with the spirit of the Sahtu Dene and Métis comprehensive land claim agreement.
“The Norman Wells operations must be managed and regulated in accordance with contemporary standards in a transparent and public process,” wrote SSI chair Ethel Blondin-Andrew. “The SSI have deep concerns that Imperial maintains that the Board has no authority with respect to key aspects of the Norman Wells operations, such as remediation and collection of security.”
She added that disregard for local authorities under an established land claim – intended to be interpreted “generously,” as directed by the Supreme Court of Canada – is out of line.
“For too long, the Norman Wells operations have operated without any local review or assessment of proposed environmental affects (sic) or any accountability to the Sahtu and local residents. Our views and concerns have been typically disregarded. This is unacceptable,” Blondin-Andrew wrote.
Both federal and territorial ministers echoed the assertion that SLWB rules, established as a result of the land claim, must be followed.
“The SLWB was created to breathe life into the intentions, both express and implied, in the Sahtu Agreement and the legislation. The SLWB is therefore responsible for regulating both land and water in the Sahtu region,” reads the reply from the GNWT.
“The GNWT respectfully submits that the SLWB’s jurisdiction is broad enough to consider abandonment and reclamation at the Norman Wells Operations.”
The federal department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development replied similarly, stating that its agreement with Imperial does not take precedence over NWT legislation or “oust the jurisdiction of the Board (SLWB) with respect to the Norman Wells facilities.”
Though the territorial government inherited authority over Crown lands in the NWT on Apr. 1, the devolution agreement leaves regulatory control over the Norman Wells Proven Area with the National Energy Board.
The federal government, which owns one third of the Norman Wells projects, collects a 5 per cent royalty from the wells. As per the devolution deal, that money will then be paid back to the GNWT.