“Sustainable Development” is now a widely accepted concept, yet there are surprisingly few concrete examples of it in practice. The pipeline industry operates at broad landscape and regional levels, and now has the opportunity to provide a strong lead in showcasing how society can benefit from major new energy pipelines while not significantly compromising natural and cultural values. To achieve this requires adoption of a fundamental proactive, ecosystem-based principle — the “Conservation First Principle”. In Canada this principle, first stated by Hummel [1], is that “there should be no new or expanded large-scale industrial development until a network of protected areas is reserved which adequately represents the natural region(s) affected by that development”. This approach is not new (e.g., the 1992 commitment by all levels of Canada’s governments to complete such protected areas networks), but it is more urgently needed now in an energy-rich frontier nation like Canada to truly safeguard our natural and cultural values while developing new energy corridors. It is a precautionary approach, akin to an insurance policy we would all be familiar with at a personal level. By identifying key natural habitats in each natural region (areas of similar bio-physical characteristics — there are 486 terrestrial natural regions in Canada), and using sophisticated GIS-based gap analysis, working with local communities, industry and governments, a network of protected areas can be identified and then reserved for legal protection. This network then adequately protects a representative sample of habitats, biodiversity and ecosystem processes in each natural region before or simultaneous with development proposals and approvals. The development of natural gas reserves in the Mackenzie Valley provides all stakeholders with a timely high-profile opportunity to showcase this balanced approach. The NWT’s Protected Areas Strategy provides the widely-supported community-led process to identify and then reserve key cultural and ecological areas in tandem with gas pipeline development. Investors, industry, governments, local communities and the general public all seek the greater certainty and security that such advance planning and balancing provides. The knowledge that certain key areas are off-limits to future development, and that other areas (the largest portion of each natural region) are assigned for sensitive industrial development, sets the stage for a more secure, stable future, in which all values are accommodated satisfactorily. In the push for greater energy security, the pipeline and oil and gas industry should now embrace the Conservation First Principle in energy developments across Canada’s lands and oceans, most immediately as it plans for a major gas pipeline in the Mackenzie Valley.

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