Oil and gas report needs follow up

It was gratifying to see Energy, Mines and Resources (EMR) Minister Brad Cathers listen to the concerns of Yukoners and agree to ban oil and gas exploration in the Whitehorse Trough until after the next election.

It was gratifying to see Energy, Mines and Resources (EMR) Minister Brad Cathers listen to the concerns of Yukoners and agree to ban oil and gas exploration in the Whitehorse Trough until after the next election.

But, in my attempts to learn more about reasons for this decision, it was disturbing to learn that a summary report will not be prepared as originally planned.

I find this unacceptable, disrespectful and ultimately a lost opportunity. A report is owed to Yukoners that summarizes:

a) views that were recorded, and assesses whether the information presented, and the process followed, were considered adequate;

b) costs (government and public) associated with this disposition process;

c) recommendations that formed the background for the decision. These need to be documented for ministerial accountability, accountability of the process, and for reference in future processes.

The commitment made during the review to have a report prepared needs to be honoured to provide clear documentation and transparency. It is unclear what concerns were deemed valid and what concerns were disregarded.

Or, was the decision based more on a sense that oil and gas exploration in the Whitehorse Trough is not part of the current mandate?

Once the report is completed, we need to ask:

Was this a reasonable cost to bear in reacting to anonymous requests?

Why are costs of disposition processes imposed on the taxpayer, especially when proponents have no obligations to submit bids if their requests for exploration rights are granted? Having proponents responsible for costs would ensure that only serious parties apply and frivolous requests are discouraged.

And would the effort have been better spent on a land use planning process?

Now is the time to review the disposition process. EMR officials acknowledged it really hadn’t been tested thoroughly until now; considerable concerns were expressed.

The current process is entirely reactionary, lacks transparency, is narrow in scope and, as witnessed, can cause considerable and unnecessary panic.

This week, we learned about plans for EMR officials to meet with industry representatives in Calgary to conduct a comprehensive review of oil and gas resources of the Whitehorse Trough. This will potentially escalate interest in this area.

Given what we’ve just gone through, isn’t this premature? Continuing to promote exploration activities in the absence of land use plans will leave the government continuously at odds with both those who care passionately about this land, and with industry, which needs assurances that their investments will not be wasted.

Now is the time to develop a comprehensive land use plan for this area so that future extractions of Yukon’s non-renewable resources, if permitted, can be planned responsibly and done with clear objectives in a transparent and sustainable manner, following procedures that are understood and accepted by those who live here, the stewards of the land, water and air.

There appears to be considerable interest and momentum in doing so. It would be time well spent during the ban!

Sandy Johnston

Whitehorse