Tories Commit $100 million To Map Arctic Resources

Date: Thursday, August 28, 2008
Author: Murray Brewster, Resource

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced a major project to map geological resources in Canada's Arctic. Declaring "use it or lose it" as the "first principle of Arctic sovereignty," Harper says the program will use geological sciences and technology to determine the North's development potential.

OTTAWA (CP) -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced a major project to map geological resources in Canada's Arctic. A total of $100 million has been set aside over the next five years to complete an on-shore geo-mapping exercise of the North.

The funding is in addition to $109 million already being spent by both the Conservatives and the previous Liberal government for mapping of the Arctic Ocean floor.

Harper made the announcement at news conference in the national capital before departing on a three-day visit that will take him from Tuktoyaktuk on the Mackenzie Delta to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories and the historic gold rush town of Dawson in the Yukon.

He said the known energy and mining resources are just a start.

"What we've found so far is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg," Harper said.

"Managed properly, Canada's share of this incredible endowment will fuel the prosperity of our country for generations. And geo-mapping will pave the way for the resource development of the future."

Field workers and specialized aircraft will use state-of-the-art science and technology to search for mineral and energy potential throughout the territories, said Harper.

The information they gather will be used to create geological models and subterranean maps that will help companies find resources in the Arctic.

The federal government estimates private sector investment in exploration could be worth as much as $500 million.

The rush for resources shouldn't be the only consideration, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion warned.

Just what kind of damage could be wrought on fragile eco-systems and northern society needs to be carefully weighed, he told reporters in Toronto following Harper's announcement.

The federal government's plan "creates a lot of uncertainties about the environment of the Arctic," said Dion.

"I think it's very important for the world to give very clear rules and laws about the Arctic before it becomes a jungle — a jungle without trees, but a jungle."

The Geological Survey of Canada has been racing against the clock to map the Arctic and its potential resource riches by 2013 after signing a United Nations treaty meant to determine international boundaries in the far North.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information laws last year showed the initial 10-year, $69 million mapping exercise was under-funded by the former Liberal government.

Scientists routinely struggled to get research time on coast guard icebreakers and had to seek partnerships with other competing countries, such as Denmark, to mount off-shore mapping expeditions.

Canadian researchers were also reduced to relying on open-sourced maps drawn by the U.S. military.

The Conservatives put an additional $40 million into the off-shore program earlier this year.

Harper said an advisory group of Northerners, including aboriginal community leaders, will participate in the research.

Arctic sovereignty has moved to the fore among northern countries as global warming melts Arctic ice and opens new shipping routes and access to untapped, potentially rich resources.

Gas has already been discovered in the Beaufort Sea, oil has been found in eastern areas of the Arctic Ocean and a diamond industry is flourishing in Nunavut.

A report released in July by the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the Arctic is storehouse to as much as 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Canada, the U.S., Russia and Denmark are competing in front of a United Nations commission to extend their undersea boundaries into areas usually blocked by northern ice.

Moscow dramatically staked its claim to the region by dropping a flag on the ocean floor at the North Pole.

But since then all four countries involved have agreed to cool the Arctic rhetoric and allow scientists to finish their surveys.

One of this country's leading experts on the North says after years of ignoring the region the federal government is finally taking the region and its potential seriously.

Rob Huebert says it wasn't that long ago that federal budget cuts had all but shut down the Canadian hydrographic service office.

"We almost lost it, so this is a nice turn around," Huebert said in an interview from Calgary. "It shows we're taking it seriously, but we should have never let it come so close."