Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Mystique of Fort Nelson

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The Mystique of Fort Nelson

By Sora Kazesawa
The Daily Magi
November 28, 2063

Fort Nelson is a community in northeast British Columbia, Canada within the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality (NRRM). It held town status prior to February 6, 2009 when it amalgamated with the former Northern Rockies Regional District to form the NRRM, becoming its administrative centre. The NRRM is the first regional municipality in the province. The community lies east of the northern Rocky Mountains in the Peace River region along the Alaska Highway at mile 300. Fort Nelson is home to 3,902 residents, representing 70% of the NRRM's total population of 5,578. The majority of Fort Nelson's economic activity has historically been concentrated in the energy and tourism industries, and until very recently, forestry. The forests surrounding Fort Nelson are part of Canada's boreal forest. Fort Nelson is on the southwest edge of the Greater Sierra oil & gas field.

Fort Nelson, named in honour of the British naval hero Horatio Nelson, was established in 1805 as a fur trading post. Due to fires, floods and feuds, Fort Nelson is currently situated in its fifth location. The Fort Nelson Airport played a key role in developing Fort Nelson as a community, when in 1935; Yukon Southern Air Transport began completing charter flights to the regional airport. The Fort Nelson Airport was also a valuable asset for allied military forces in World War II, as it served as an airbase for the United States Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force. Contrary to popular belief that the construction of the Alaska Highway commenced in Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson was the original mile 0 on the Alaska Highway because of the existence of a previously constructed road from Fort Saint John to Fort Nelson.

Perhaps the most notable historical artifact in the area, the Alaska Highway, was constructed by the United States Army beginning in 1942 out of a firm belief that Alaska faced significant threat of Japanese invasion. Highway construction attracted over 11,000 laborers to the area. After approximately nine lengthy and strenuous months, the highway was finally completed, making Fort Nelson a bustling service center along the famous road. After the Japanese surrender of 1945, the U.S. Army ceded the Canadian portion of the highway to the Canadian government, which it made formally accessible to the public in 1948.

In the years following World War II, the construction of the Alaska Highway, and the construction of the Fort Nelson Airport, Fort Nelson grew considerably as a community. In the early 1950s, the first 5 acres were sold to locals, which marked the start of the community as a separate entity from the military. Oil and gas exploration in the early 50’s provided Fort Nelson with the industrial sector that it required to jump start expansion of the community into what would eventually become the village of Fort Nelson in 1971. The 60’s also had Fort Nelson’s education system formally offer grades 1-12 education. After the completion of BC Hydro’s newly constructed natural gas power plant to provide electricity to the region, Fort Nelson experienced true growth. A railroad was built up to Fort Nelson in the 1970s which provided the necessary transportation means to efficiently transport the local industry’s major products (Lumber, Oil and Gas) to larger markets down south.

Due to major increases and improvements to the oil and gas industry in the Horn River Basin, Fort Nelson has experienced substantial growth in recent years. Natural gas, forestry, tourism and agriculture make up the majority of local industry. Unconventional gas exploration is the premier industry in Fort Nelson, employing a large percentage of Fort Nelson's community members. The region's natural gas industry centers around the Horn River Basin, Liard Basin, and the Cordova basin which all contain vast amounts of gas in shale rock formations. Many of the world's most recognizable oil and gas companies are operating in the region, including EnCana, Nexen, Apache, Imperial Oil, and several more. The most common form of gas extraction is the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, in which a drill bit is first vertically, then horizontally inserted deep into the ground in an attempt to reach poorly accessible shale gas formations. As with any gas operation in North America, there are significant concerns to the environmental and social effects of the industry on the surrounding area. Large amounts of water are being extracted, most of which is withdrawn from nearby lakes and rivers, which continues to be a hot topic in the region and within the oil and gas industry.

Fort Nelson is surrounded by vast plains and mountains of boreal forest. The relatively untouched timber supply was the contributing factor to companies such as Canfor constructing large factories that employed hundreds of people. In recent years, both the Canfor mill and the Tackama mill have completely ceased operations based on high costs and a struggling US housing market. The closure of the mills proved to be devastating for locals, displacing several hundreds of local employees and their families. Once housing markets begin to recover and the demand for wood is once again high, Fort Nelson’s forestry industry is expected to return. At present, the oil and gas industry is responsible for the majority of forestry operations currently in progress in the region, based on its need for service roads and deforested operational land.

Although very seasonal in Fort Nelson, tourism continues to be an import economic sector in Fort Nelson’s economy. Approximately 300,000 tourists, most of whom are retired RV travellers heading to or from Alaska, visit Fort Nelson on an annual basis. The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality is also home to several world renowned tourist attractions such as the Liard Hot Springs, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, and the Alaska Highway. Hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, bird watching and hiking are all popular outdoor recreational activities that draw thousands of tourists to the region every year.

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