Board rules it has authority over Imperial Oil’s activities near Norman Wells

Board rules it has authority over Imperial Oil’s activities near Norman Wells
Imperial Oil’s artificial islands sit on the Mackenzie River near Norman Wells where the company has been extracting oil for over 70 years. The Sahtu Land and Water Board recently ruled it has jurisdiction over the closure and remediation of the project.Photo: file photo.

The Sahtu Land and Water Board (SLWB) has ruled it has total jurisdiction over Imperial Oil’s activities near Norman Wells, despite the company’s arguments to the contrary.

Imperial recently challenged the board’s authority, stating the original agreement entered into with the National Energy Board in 1944 overrides any new legislative powers taken on by the board through the Sahtu land claim or by the territorial government through devolution.

The challenge elicited a scathing response from regional land claim organizations in the Sahtu, who received backing by both the federal and territorial governments in support of SLWB jurisdiction.

On May 16, the board made the decision official, stating that after careful review of the arguments filed by all parties, the SLWB has decided that “its jurisdiction extends to all licensed activities involving the use of water or the deposit of waste at the Norman Wells Operation of Imperial Oil Resources Ltd.”

Imperial first wrote to the board in late March, expressing concerns with the SLWB’s requirements for cleanup and remediation, including the requirement that the company provide a security deposit guaranteeing its financial ability to clean up the site.

The company said it already has a confidential agreement with the federal government to cover the Crown’s share of the abandonment liability.

The SLWB said both agreements can apply concurrently.

“The Board is of the view that its authorities do not conflict with those granted to the National Energy Board under its legislation and that these regulatory regimes are complementary,” stated the ruling, which found the SLWB has the right to regulate closure and remediation, as well as determine the appropriate amount of security.

Both the territorial and federal governments came to the board’s defence last month after the Sahtu Secretariat Inc. accused the company of disrespecting the Sahtu Dene and Métis comprehensive land claim agreement, which established the SLWB.

Imperial spokesperson Pius Rolheiser said the company was fine with the response.

“Imperial was seeking needed clarification on some jurisdictional issues affecting our pending water licence renewal. We are grateful for the clarification that the board has offered, and we are preparing for the planned water licence hearing in June on that basis,” he told The Journal in an email. “We look forward to the hearing on our water licence renewal application.”

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 licence that expires at the end of August. The public hearing is scheduled for June 12-13 in Norman Wells.

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. That money will later be paid back to the GNWT, as per the devolution deal.

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