University of Saskatchewan

September 18, 2014   

Student Developing New Planning Tool for Arctic “Cold Rush”

Fidler brings international experience to her research at the U of S
Photo of Courtney Fidler: By Scott Bell for the University of Saskatchewan
May 17, 2010

By Lisa Johnson

The race to explore and develop the Arctic’s treasure trove of natural resources has been dubbed the “Cold Rush.”

But as the Arctic’s multi-billion dollar oil and gas industry seeks to extract some of Canada’s most sought-after resources, it needs to proceed in a way that upholds aboriginal rights and interests and minimizes risk to the environment, says University of Saskatchewan student Courtney Fidler.

“This is an important industry with potentially huge impacts, positive and negative, and it demands a proactive approach that brings together communities, industry and government,” says Fidler, a PhD student in geography and planning.

She has just been awarded the Social Sciences and Humanities Council Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, worth $150,000 over three years.

Fidler will travel to the north to develop a new planning tool that will help aboriginal communities, industry, and government agencies more effectively mitigate the negative environmental and social impacts of northern resource development.

“Her work takes a brand new approach,” says supervisor and U of S environmental assessment professor Bram Noble.

The oil and gas industry now recognizes that successful operations need the support of local communities, says Fidler.

“Every community is unique,” she says. “But their concerns are similar–communities need to be consulted and be key decision makers in projects that impact their livelihood, land or resources.”

The current approach to impact assessment and management in the Beaufort Sea region is not good enough, she says.

“We need to look at the big picture, and take a co-ordinated regional approach that goes beyond the current project-by-project framework,” says Fidler.

She hopes to develop a strategic environmental management and planning framework for Arctic oil and gas development in Canada. She says a strategic framework is needed “now more than ever,” adding that such frameworks have been implemented in the U.K., Norway, Atlantic Canada, and the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s about planning rather than trying to catch up to damage done after the fact,” explains Noble.

Fidler has listened to and shared knowledge with indigenous land owners as a visiting scholar at the University of Queensland Sustainable Minerals Institute in Australia. There she co-authored a report on the social impacts of resource development, and contributed to a guidebook on gender issues for Rio Tinto, a multinational mining company.

With a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, a master’s in mining engineering, and training in environmental regulation, legislation and political science, Fidler brings a unique understanding of social issues that engineers and scientists focusing on technical feasibility don’t often have.

“The research she is doing is vital,” says Noble, adding she is already building a national reputation for it.

Fidler plans to work with the Arctic Council, an international forum of eight Arctic states committed to protection of the environment through sustainable use of natural resources, when she finishes her doctoral studies.


Lisa Johnson is a graduate student intern for the U of S research communications office. Visit www.usask/research for more stories of student research.

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