It is OK to say no to oil and gas development.
The Yukon government wants to open up very large areas of land in the Whitehorse Trough, which extends from Carcross to Carmacks, to oil and gas development.
These areas south of Whitehorse include or are near to: Little Atlin Lake, Tagish Lake, Tagish Narrows Habitat Protection Area, the community of Tagish, Mount Lorne, west of Lewes Marsh Habitat Protection Area and Marsh Lake and north almost to the Carcross cutoff.
The areas north of Whitehorse include areas west of the new Grizzly Valley subdivision, areas north of the Takhini Hot Springs, Fox Lake, the entire northern half of Lake Laberge, Little Fox Lake, Braeburn Lake, Frank Lake, Mandanna Lake, the region southeast of Carmacks, a portion of Frenchman Lake, the areas north of Carmacks to the Five Finger Rapids region and the area south of Granite Mountain.
It is very important for Yukon people who own, enjoy or care about the land in these areas to examine the maps the government has put out.
There has already been one major revision to the maps (in the Marsh Lake-Tagish region) because a large block of Carcross/Tagish First Nation settlement land was mistakenly included as part of the land that could have had rights given to the oil and gas companies. The maps have now been corrected, but if a mistake was made once, we can only hope it has not been repeated elsewhere.
Yukon people should also examine how close the oil and gas areas are to the land they use, be it for living, trapping, growing food, snowmobiling, hunting, gathering, harvesting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, etc.
If oil and gas development were to occur in the Whitehorse Trough, it would change the boreal forest ecosystem. This development would be bad for the environment, bad for wildlife and bad for anyone who goes onto the land.
The oil and gas impacts on the land occur as follows:
Once oil and gas rights are awarded, the oil and gas companies will do a 2D seismic program. This involves cutting straight lines through the forest about a metre wide and potentially tens of kilometres long. The lines will be a few hundred metres apart.
Once an area of interest is found, a much more crowded grid of seismic lines for the 3D program is usually done. This will be a cross hatch of one-metre wide seismic lines, typically a hundred metres or less apart, in an area of a few square kilometres.
Seismic lines are used by both human hunters and animal predators and as a result increase the harvest of caribou and moose, which already face enough pressure in these regions. These straight lines are known as wolf highways because they allow much easier access for these animals to take down their prey.
To actually use the seismic lines, the companies either drill a series of small-bore holes and explode dynamite charges in them to send shock waves through the ground, or they can obtain similar data by driving vehicles with vibrating devices along the seismic lines to also send shock waves through the ground.
If an area of oil or gas interest is discovered once the seismic work is done, an exploration well will be drilled. The rig for this can be large, larger than the rigs that drill for ore samples. This means that an access road will be required. Access roads, once in place, are almost impossible to remediate back to the original landscape.
Finally, if any commercially viable fossil fuels are found, production wells will be required. Not only will these be large structures, but the associated infrastructure with them can be large. This includes flare stacks, storage tanks, maintenance shacks, pipelines, maintenance roads, etc., not to mention camps for workers.
Depending on the nature of the fossil fuel deposit, it is possible a fracking system of oil and gas extraction will be used.
Fracking requires a huge amount of water mixed with toxic chemicals, blasted underground to break apart rock to release the oil and gas. This poisonous mess can contaminate wells and the water table, the land and surface water.
Conflicting reports in the media argue whether fracking is safe or not for water. The Yukon Conservation Society believes the violent injection of toxic chemicals into the land and groundwater cannot be expected to have no effects.
As described above, the entire oil and gas development can take many years and each stage does more and more harm to the land.
But in the Yukon, it all starts with a request for posting. This is the process that is happening now.
The Yukon Conservation Society wants all current land values and uses respected. When a land use plan is developed for the Whitehorse Trough area, only then should oil and gas development be considered.
Land use plans need to be well thought out and all land values and uses carefully considered. The Yukon government should not be unilaterally deciding that industrial development is the best use of land in this already stressed region of the Yukon.
There is already the free-entry mining system and urban sprawl in these affected areas. Adding the oil and gas industry on top of this without proper land use planning will be an ecological and planning disaster.
If the current proposal goes ahead, the oil and gas companies could turn the Whitehorse Trough into a region similar to northeastern B.C. or northern Alberta.
Contact the Yukon government oil and gas branch before March 30 to ensure the areas important to you will not be destroyed by this ill-thought-out industrial development.
Make sure your friends and neighbours are informed about what is going on and know what is at stake.
The Yukon government oil and gas branch will hold community meetings in the affected areas if interest is expressed. Contact them for more details.
The same goes if you are having trouble finding or understanding the maps that show the affected areas.
They can be reached at (867) 667-5087 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The last day they will accept comments on this is March 30.
The Yukon Conservation Society is also available to discuss the impacts this development will have on the environment in the region between Carcross and Carmacks (including Whitehorse). We can be reached at 668-5678 or at email@example.com.
It is OK to say no to oil and gas development, and now is the time to say it.
Lewis Rifkind, Anne Middler
Yukon Conservation Society
See more letters pages 10 and 11.