As many of you may be aware, the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources has come out with a plan for oil and gas exploration and development in the Whitehorse Trough.
Officials were invited out to Tagish Community Hall. Because deadlines are short (public input ends March 31) this meeting was on very short notice on a Thursday evening, but showed a huge turnout of more than 50 concerned Tagish residents from all walks of life. We all were facing detailed posters with nice diagrams, colourful maps, power point presentations and geological survey data.
I learned at this meeting EMR has researched areas after geological surveys were being made, has found some evidence of oil and gas deposits and has now come forward with its well-prepared plan and actually identified areas for oil and gas exploration. This identification process was done by excluding First Nation land here, private land there, eventually considering protected areas and, as I got confirmed by the facilitator, the rest is up for sale.
Currently, oil companies are bidding for the 12 pieces of land defined by EMR. If you’re interested and have computer access, please visit www.yukonoilandgas.com. Disregard the ads and have a look at the maps.
Numerous concerns were raised by the residents attending this meeting, from wildlife habitat impact and the Southern Lakes caribou herd to the fact that vast pieces of nature being destroyed or “changed,” as the attending operations manager for the oil and gas branch put it. Worries were put forward: about potential impact on communities, about contaminated drinking water, about the Yukon River headwaters (which feed Schwatka Lake) and about exploration and development “experiences” in other places.
I would like to keep this letter short and will focus on some thoughts about democratic principles. I was told at the meeting that even if the majority of Tagish residents attending would be opposed to oil and gas exploration in the Yukon, and especially in our hinterland, we would not be able to stop the process. We could vent our concerns and eventually they get relayed to the minister.
That is where my problem begins: How can a government make a decision of this magnitude without responsible democratic legitimization? I am fully aware that government requires decisions to be made to keep daily operations running and to work on future planning processes, like community development plans.
Deciding to actively promote oil and gas exploration and inviting oil companies to bid is something completely different, though. The impact of this kind of industry on the land, on the vegetation, on wildlife, on existing industries like hunting and trapping, on communities, on water quality, on people’s health, is huge. You do not have to travel south very far to get an idea what it looks like.
Now, some might say that we just recently had an election and that this government got a majority. The population did not get a chance to vote on positions on the Peel River watershed, for instance, as there was no clear statement from the government party before the election. But definitely, Yukoners did not hear about oil and gas development plans of such a big scale, which are coming out now, a couple months after the election. And things are moving fast!
The feeling I had at the meeting was that residents, at least in Tagish, want to have a say. For the sake of democracy, I’d like to encourage people to voice their opinion on the process of opening up the Whitehorse Trough for oil and gas development.
Use your right to share your opinions at meetings through the media or by writing your input to firstname.lastname@example.org. And I’d like to ask the administrative government side to please listen to and transport on what your fellow Yukoners have to say about your plans.
Also, I want to ask Premier Darrell Pasloski and the minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, Brad Cathers, to have the courage and come out and ask the Yukon population the following question: Do you want to have oil and gas exploration in the Yukon? You took public land and are currently offering it to oil companies for exploration. We are the public. Ask us.
And, Mr. Cathers, referring to your new ad campaign in the newspaper about the Peel: as long as the “if” is not solved in a democratic manner you will not be able to find consensus on the “hows.” Although I liked the Inukshuk, nice design.
Come and join the democratic train. Listen to your fellow Yukoners, in Whitehorse, Tagish, Mount Lorne, Carcross, Marsh Lake, Deep Creek, Carmacks. These communities are affected the most. Act in accordance with what your constituents will tell you. Hold a referendum on oil and gas development in the Yukon, but do not just try to sneak your way through, creating facts that later need to be addressed somehow.
Be a part, otherwise democracy might eventually happen without you.