It’s been more than 20 years since anyone pushed to look for oil and gas in the Whitehorse Basin.
In 1987, then-Whitehorse mayor Don Branigan and the Kwanlin Dun teamed up against the Yukon Oil and Gas Company, headed by businessman Joe Lindsay, to acquire the rights to explore the region.
The play never amounted to much, and their Jed Clampett dreams were soon parked on the shelf.
Now there’s new interest in probing the region for petroleum riches, presumably prompted by the territory’s growing need for cheap power.
A few weeks back, the Yukon government received requests to explore 12 huge parcels within a vast tract of land that stretches from Carcross to Carmacks.
In all, the parcels add up to 4,113 square kilometres or about a million acres.
Yukoners now have less than 60 days to put in their two bits on the proposals.
The only trouble is the government won’t tell the public who exactly has asked to do the looking.
It could be simply one individual who applied for all 12 parcels.
Or several individuals. Or maybe a company or companies. Perhaps a First Nation development corporation or corporations.
Or maybe it’s a partnership with a petro giant like Chevron or the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, which is already bankrolling Alberta-based Northern Cross in its search for natural gas in the Eagle Plains Basin.
It could be one of the above, some of the above, or even all of the above.
The point is nobody knows except the Yukon government, and it’s not telling.
At the same time, it’s expecting Yukoners to comment knowing only half the story.
“The process is deliberately set up to have it reviewed on the merit of applications,” said Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers.
That’s hard to swallow because it’s the government that’s doing the review and it already knows who wants to conduct the exploration.
The “request for posting” form submitted is pretty simple. The one-page application asks where the requested parcel is located and who wants to do the exploration.
Utmost discretion is promised by the government in the form’s accompanying guidelines.
“All information concerning the identity of the person(s) submitting an RFP will remain confidential,” the 12-pager says. “To ensure confidentiality when faxing, call Oil and Gas Resources at (867)667-3427 or 667-5087 immediately prior to transmission. A staff member will receive the fax and ensure confidentiality is maintained.”
But it never says why the secrecy is needed and maybe that’s because it really isn’t.
Developing an oil and gas industry in the Whitehorse-Carmacks-Carcross region would be a big step for the Yukon.
It only stands to reason the public has as much information as possible before weighing in on this important debate.
Just who is behind the potential development may have a huge bearing on how people feel about it.
The government knows but the public doesn’t, and the 60-day comment period has already started ticking.
But that doesn’t mean the people who submitted the forms can’t step out of the shadows. They could and they should.