Arctic Gateway Pipeline: Alberta Looks Far, Far North to Potential Oilsands Export Route

While the Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, Trans Mountain and Energy East pipelines remain stalled in political upheaval, environmental opposition and regulatory processing, the government of Alberta could start moving landlocked oil to tidal waters via the Arctic as early as 2015, according to a technical report recently released by the Alberta government. 


The report, authored by Canatec Associates International Ltd., an Arctic petroleum consultation firm, considers three scenarios for exporting oilsands product, all of which were deemed technically feasible. An early, exploratory shipment of oil to the Arctic could be on the move as early as next year, the report states.


The Arctic Gateway Pipeline, previously considered logistically unfeasible, has been eyed with increasing interest recently, as a warming climate begins to open up the north to new development and previously inaccessible shipment routes.


The report notes the new export route stands to benefit from a combination of a changing northern climate, hunger for resource development in Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories, and the growing desperation to move Alberta oil to Asian markets.


The Financial Post reports “an aggressive push from the federal government to reduce environmental oversight in the territory” is part of the “combination of winning conditions” adding to the proposal’s viability.


The report states Alberta “could take a leadership role within Canadian confederation, on the future of the Arctic.”


“Alberta will automatically be a major player in this industry if it has already established an Arctic Energy Gateway.”

The Canatec report notes the Arctic “lacks the equipment, personnel and logistical capacity to effectively respond to oil spills,” adding, “no oil spill response organizations are certified to work in the Arctic.”

Proposed route to the Arctic. Image from Canatec.

The pipeline is projected to transport up to 100,000 barrels of diluted bitumen a day. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry up to 700,000 barrles of oil per day from Canada to the Gulf Coast and the federally-approved Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline would have a daily capacity of 525,000 barrels of oil.


Alberta Energy spokesperson Ryan Cromb told Fort McMurray Today the report was commissioned to survey oil-export options, and not to identify an alternative to existing pipelines.


“This report was commissioned as part of our larger look at market access in all directions – east, west, north and south,” he said. “Alberta Energy is continuing to review the report and will use it to help better inform us and more fully understand market options.”


Mike Hudema from Greenpeace Canada told Fort McMurray Today it is “absolutely ridiculous” Alberta is considering an Arctic route for oil export.


“Not only should we not be expanding the oilsands at a point where we are blowing past so many environmental thresholds, but now we want to endanger one of the last remaining untouched ecosystems?” he said.


Keith Stewart, energy and climate campaigner for Greenpeace, echoed these concerns: “The melting of the arctic should be setting off alarms saying we should start moving away from fossil fuels,” he said. “Instead, we are using it as an opportunity to make things worse.”


New economic attention has been paid to Arctic shipping routes since ice levels dropped to record lows in the summer of 2012. Unprecedented ice retreat in August 2012 opened up Parry Channel in the Northwest Passage, signaling a new life to the historic shipping route that, until then, was thought too dangerous to be economic.

Ice in the Perry Channel July 17, 2012. Image by NASA.

Ice retreat in Perry Channel on August 3, 2012. Image by NASA.

In 2013 a container ship used the Northwest Passage to deliver cargo to the port in Rotterdam.


Canatec currently lists the Northwest Passage as “technically feasible to open.”

Image Credit: Tuktoyaktuk by pony_coach via Flickr.

New title

You’ve read all the way to the bottom of this article. That makes you some serious Narwhal material.

And since you’re here, we have a favour to ask. Our independent, ad-free journalism is made possible because the people who value our work also support it (did we mention our stories are free for all to read, not just those who can afford to pay?).

As a non-profit, reader-funded news organization, our goal isn’t to sell advertising or to please corporate bigwigs — it’s to bring evidence-based news and analysis to the surface for all Canadians. And at a time when most news organizations have been laying off reporters, we’ve hired five journalists over the past year.

Not only are we filling a void in environment coverage, but we’re also telling stories differently — by centring Indigenous voices, by building community and by doing it all as a people-powered, non-profit outlet supported by more than 3,500 members

The truth is we wouldn’t be here without you. Every single one of you who reads and shares our articles is a crucial part of building a new model for Canadian journalism that puts people before profit.

We know that these days the world’s problems can feel a *touch* overwhelming. It’s easy to feel like what we do doesn’t make any difference, but becoming a member of The Narwhal is one small way you truly can make a difference.

If you believe news organizations should report to their readers, not advertisers or shareholders, please become a monthly member of The Narwhal today for any amount you can afford.

In search of Haida Gwaii’s forest-dwelling hawk, one of the most endangered species on the planet

A dense fog rolls in from the ocean on a cool, wet summer morning in Gaw Old Masset, a small village at the north end...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Help power our ad-free, non‑profit journalism
Get The Narwhal in your inbox!

People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism