When a government sells out to Big Oil

When a government sells out to Big Oil On Feb. 16, I attended the public consultation meeting in Tagish, in regards to proposed oil and gas exploration from here to Carmacks. The impression I was left with following the presentation by the Department o

On Feb. 16, I attended the public consultation meeting in Tagish, in regards to proposed oil and gas exploration from here to Carmacks.

The impression I was left with following the presentation by the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources was that Outside companies would be allowed to “play around” in various areas and likely they’d find nothing and simply go home. It was declared by the manager of operations for the Yukon’s oil and gas that the environment cannot be destroyed. He said a simple “no” from him if things did not measure up to Yukon standards was enough to send companies packing. I wonder how many times he’s actually done that.

These recent upsetting proposals have unearthed an old personal trauma. In the late 1990s, my partner and I worked for a Canadian oil and gas company in the jungle of Ecuador bordering Colombia. We were hired as a writer/photographer team as part of a newly formed foundation created by the oil company to appease concerns and public outcry back in Calgary that were concerned about social responsibility.

Word had gotten out that the local people were living in rudimentary shacks literally over pipelines, in dire poverty. The main health issues were chronic respiratory ones due to the steady traffic from the oil company vehicles roaring through the village, stirring up dust. The villagers had requested a water truck to pass once a day to settle the dust but it was denied.

We had spent three years prior to this working for a reputable international humanitarian organization in Ecuador and this was the worst poverty we’d witnessed. Yet the jungle was rich in resources and millions of dollars flowed literally underfoot everyday.

Shocking to us was the callous attitude from our fellow countrymen, whose managers traveled in convoys with heavily armed bodyguards. One manager laughed as he told us of their hiring practices: to hire as many local people as possible, send them out in the field with no training only to see them last a few days. The company was then able to say they tried to hire locally “but they couldn’t handle it Ð that’s not our problem anymore.”

He said he learned these hiring tactics in Inuvik, when he worked in the Beaufort in the 1980s.

The true devastation lay behind the many locked gates along the main road, with armed guards sheltered in little sheds. One day, an oil company employee took us down one of these roads on the way to the coffee farm where we lived. As far as we could see were pools of brown sludge and standing dead trees from years of dumping toxic drilling mud and oil from leaking pipelines. The local busy brothel on the outskirts of town serviced the crew. To the guy showing us this, it was all normal business and part of the two-weeks-in, two-weeks-out job.

We aren’t proud of the fact we had to save ourselves from the harsh reality, after befriending some local children and families. We could not help them. As it turned out, the foundation we were working for was all smoke and mirrors. After a while, we caught on to the illusion we were innocently part of. The last straw was the loss of the creek that got diverted by the company behind the farm, where we bathed and got water for cooking. Soon there were grumblings amongst the local people who didn’t want their photos taken anymore, who felt we’d taken enough of their stories. And for what Ð a glossy facade for the company’s stakeholders?

Then there were the intimidating roadblocks that were routinely set up by the villagers who were getting increasingly unhappy. Shortly after we left, 11 Canadian workers from the oil company were kidnapped and went missing for several months in the jungle. One of the bodyguards was dead. As horrible as this was, I could see there were no options left for the local Ecuadorians. They’d given up their health, their water, had no work and their land had been expropriated. Trapped with nowhere to go, who could blame the kidnappers?

That’s when we came here to the southern lakes. We found a beautiful place near a clean lake. The Yukon would become the place where we could lick our wounds. Pristine, just like a post card, everything we’d imagined the Yukon to be with wildlife routinely in our midst. How immensely privileged we are! But I can’t forget the sweet faces of those children, who did their best to live in the muck. Is it poetic justice that now we face the same grim prospects?

Last year, a wide-eyed visitor from Ontario, seeing the Yukon for the first time, asked us a difficult question. Mostly he had been enchanted with the Yukon but, following a hunting trip in a remote area, he was shocked to discover a huge mining camp “in the middle of nowhere.” He told us “people don’t know what’s going on out there, hundreds of guys from somewhere else, dumping $100,000 pieces of equipment in the bush and walking away from it.”

Then he asked, “What kind of plan does the Yukon government have for the future? They must know what’s going on, don’t they?”

We can only wonder about his question after last week’s oil and gas meeting. It did nothing to discuss the long-term effects on tourism, the environment or on the people who live here full time. We should all look to what we saw in Ecuador with horror. It is happening all over the world. Can regulations protect us from that kind of attitude?

Suzanne Picot

Crag Lake

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

President Joe Biden signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris in the State Dinning Room of the White House on Jan. 21, in Washington, D.C. The administration announced plans Jan. 20 for a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge after the Trump administration issued leases in a part of the refuge considered sacred by the Gwich’in. (Alex Brandon/AP)
U.S. President Joe Biden halts oil and gas lease sales in ANWR

“Its great to have an ally in the White House”

asdf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Jan. 22, 2021

Children’s performer Claire Ness poses for a photo for the upcoming annual Pivot Festival. “Claire Ness Morning” will be a kid-friendly performance streamed on the morning of Jan. 30. (Photo courtesy Erik Pinkerton Photography)
Pivot Festival provides ‘delight and light’ to a pandemic January

The festival runs Jan. 20 to 30 with virtual and physically distant events

The Boulevard of Hope was launched by the Yukon T1D Support Network and will be lit up throughout January. It is aimed at raising awareness about Yukoners living with Type 1 diabetes. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Boulevard of Hope sheds light on Type 1 diabetes

Organizers hope to make it an annual event

City of Whitehorse city council meeting in Whitehorse on Oct. 5, 2020. An updated council procedures bylaw was proposed at Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 18 meeting that would see a few changes to council meetings and how council handles certain matters like civil emergencies. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse procedures bylaw comes forward

New measures proposed for how council could deal with emergencies

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Yukon Energy, Solvest Inc. and Chu Níikwän Development Corporation are calling on the city for a meeting to look at possibilities for separate tax rates or incentives for renewable energy projects. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tax changes sought for Whitehorse energy projects

Delegates call for separate property tax category for renewable energy projects

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

Most Read