The Energy Strategy for Yukon provides an argument against oil and gas development in the Whitehorse Trough, not for it.
The Yukon Conservation Society has been following the oil and gas disposition consultation process closely. At the last two community meetings about oil and gas development in the Whitehorse Trough, the government employed a new tactic in its justification of the current rights disposition process – the Energy Strategy for Yukon.
The government is saying that during consultations for the strategy five years ago, it heard that Yukon people want oil and gas development. Representatives stand firm behind this belief and seem to have blinders on and be immune to the overwhelming opposition coming at them at all public meetings.
Hiding behind this interpretation of the strategy, the government feels that it has a mandate to charge ahead with the disposition process and a requirement only to conduct a “consultation to mitigate,” not a consultation to discuss whether or not oil and gas development should occur within the Whitehorse Trough.
Public consultation around the strategy in 2008 was not a referendum or public opinion poll about oil and gas in the Yukon. The focus was on energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy. In the hierarchy of importance, oil and gas came only after these things.
At the time, the only oil and gas activity in the Yukon was happening in Eagle Plains, where land use planning was nearly complete and communities, First Nations and the Yukon government were agreeing where this kind of development could occur. The conventional Kotaneelee wells in extreme southeast Yukon were grandfathered in from pre-devolution days.
Let’s now take a closer look at the Energy Strategy.
Its first goal: “Energy efficiency and conservation will be a priority to reduce consumption, energy costs and emissions.”
Its second goal: “Energy production from renewable sources will be increased to reduce fossil-fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Its third goal: “Electricity supply will be increased and demand will be managed to meet current and future electricity needs.”
YCS still awaits evidence that the government is taking any of these goals seriously. Focus on and investment in oil and gas will undoubtedly take away from any serious work on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and reducing our consumption of energy through conservation and efficiency. After those efforts, new sources of renewable energy can be added to the grid to meet our needs.
The fourth goal of the Energy Strategy speaks to industrial development: “Oil and gas resources will be developed responsibly for local use within Yukon and export.”
The strategy talks about managing responsible oil and gas development, and the strategy’s overall vision speaks to environmentally, economically and socially responsible energy resources for the benefit of Yukon people, now and generations to come.
However, the approach to development that is being proposed in the Whitehorse Trough now does not constitute responsible management of this finite resource.
In fact, the way things are proceeding would appear to be creating environmental liabilities and energy bankruptcy for future generations.
While it does seem prudent to exploit local resources for local use, citizens who attended the Mount Lorne meeting learned that there is no mechanism or policy in place to ensure that these resources, once the rights are awarded, can be responsibly managed by private corporations for local use.
If oil and gas companies want fast and dirty extraction of our fossil fuels to sell to the highest bidder in an export market, that is what they will do.
The Yukon is not ready for this.
Thankfully, the Yukon Oil and Gas Act section 17 states that “the minister may, in respect of any specified area and in any manner the minister considers warranted, restrict the issuance of oil and gas dispositions, or withdraw any Yukon oil and gas lands from disposition.”
To Energy Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers: Please be assured (if the report you will receive from the oil and gas branch is not clear) it would strongly appear that the majority of Yukon people do not want to see oil and gas exploration and development in the Whitehorse Trough at all, or at the very least, until we have land use planning, policies and regulations in place to ensure the environment and communities are protected, and our resources are not exported for the profit of a few. Therefore, please withdraw all areas in the Whitehorse Trough from disposition.
The Yukon Conservation Society encourages Yukon people to find out more about proposed oil and gas exploration and development in the Whitehorse Trough at the government meeting on March 22 at 7 p.m. at the High Country Inn.
The public is also invited to a YCS screening of Gasland at 5:30 p.m. on March 22 in the Sport Yukon Building at the Golden Age Society.
YCS also urges Yukon people to write to oil and gas branch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline for comments is March 30.
Anne Middler and Lewis Rifkind
Yukon Conservation Society