Standing on Guard for Our Waters
Ottawa's Response to the Transit of Alaskan Oil
From: 1968 in Canada
The discovery of massive quantities of recoverable oil on the north slope
of Alaska in July 1968 and competing shipping alternatives to transit the
hydrocarbons south, through or adjacent to Canadian waters, prompted
the government of Pierre Trudeau to pursue two strategies. Concerning
the waters of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, in 1969 Ottawa moved to
monitor and challenge the maritime passage of the SS Manhattan, crafted
progressive legislative initiatives in the form of the 1970 Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act and amendments to the Territorial Sea and Fishing Zone Boundaries, and informed the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that it would reserve the right to accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the court, all in an effort to exert jurisdictional and regulatory control over Canada’s northern waters. By 1971, when American oil industrialists’ plans for transiting Alaskan crude through the Northwest Passage were abandoned (due to economic, technological, and climate concerns), they moved, with the full support of the administration of Richard Nixon, to pursue the option of a trans-Alaska pipeline system (TAPS). In light of this development, Ottawa actively promoted, from 1971 to 1973, an alternate overland route for the transportation of Prudhoe Bay oil, a southward corridor through Canada’s Mackenzie Valley. This chapter examines these specific efforts by Ottawa to dissuade interested oil companies and the United States from embracing what the Trudeau government regarded as a profound ecological, economic, and human threat to Canadian waters.
Christopher Kirkey is Director of the Center for the Study of Canada and Institute on Quebec Studies at State University of New York College at Plattsburgh and serves as President of the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States (ACSUS).