UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Norman Wells Project Coordinating Committee : an evaluation Wilson, Jennifer Sharon


On July 31,1981 the federal cabinet approved the Norman Wells Pipeline and Expansion Project (NW Project). The project consisted of a tenfold expansion to the existing oilfield at Norman Wells, N.W.T., and the construction of an 870 km pipeline to Zama, Alberta. The approval was subject to a formal delay to allow "time for effective and meaningful planning" for the implementation of special management measures and benefit packages. Construction commenced January 1983 and the project became operational in April 1985. Although the project did not represent a major undertaking by industry standards, it was significant for the north because it was the first major hydrocarbon production and transportation project to be completed in the Northwest Territories. In addition, the project involved a number of unique impact management structures in order to coordinate government and industry's activities and incorporate native concerns. The approach, if successfully implemented, would represent an important step towards recognizing native concerns in project management. As a result of the new impact management structures, the NW Project has been referred to by the federal government and industry as a "model" for future northern development projects. On the other hand, native organizations viewed the project as a 'test case' that failed since all the conditions to their approval were not fully met. This inconsistency highlights the importance of clarifying which structures were successful for future northern megaprojects. This thesis focuses on one of the management structures unique to the NW Project, the Project Coordinating Committee (PCC). The PCC was established "to provide a forum for formal project update, reporting, communication and coordination of activities". The Committee had representatives from the federal government, the two proponents, the Government of the Northwest Territories, the Dene Nation, and the Metis Association. The specific purpose of this thesis is to assess the performance of the PCC using criteria derived from the literature on Planning Process and Citizen Participation, Group Dynamics, and Environmental Dispute Resolution. The results of this evaluation showed that the committee failed to satisfy all the performance criteria. However, at the root of the problem were the politics associated with the approval of the project, and in particular, the fact that the native land claims issue had not been resolved. Even in the absence of negotiated powers, the Dene and Metis had expected to actively participate in the regulation and management of the NW Project. When these powers were divorced from the processes the Dene and Metis were to be involved in, the Dene and Metis boycotted them. In addition to politics, there were also fundamental structural and operational deficiencies with the PCC which were detrimental to its performance. On the basis of this analysis, an improved committee framework for future projects is proposed.

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