Yukon’s perfect storm

Last week, the Yukon government leader announced that Apache Corp. wants to extend their gas and oil exploration into the southeast Yukon, something the government can hardly contain its excitement over.

Last week, the Yukon government leader announced that Apache Corp. wants to extend their gas and oil exploration into the southeast Yukon, something the government can hardly contain its excitement over.

Paving the way for such developments are the drastic reductions in environmental monitoring and protection regulations (buried in federal omnibus “budget” Bills C-38 and C-45), no land use plans, and now, the Yukon government’s refusal to establish greenhouse gas emission standards and proposed revisions to the Oil and Gas Act.

If such revisions come into force, First Nations will no longer have a final say on whether such developments should occur, or how they should occur in their traditional territories. This is tragic not only because of the betrayal of previous agreements with First Nations, but also because the stage is now set for a perfect storm on the environment, and serious threats to the Yukon lifestyle and infrastructure.

For a glimpse of what such developments might bring with it, have a look at the gas exploration going on just south of border in northeastern B.C. (Search online: W. Koop. 2010. Encana’s Cabin not so Homey: Cumulative environmental effects an unfolding and emerging crisis in northeastern British Columbia’s shale gas plays).

Here, companies such as Apache and Encana boast as much about who holds the record for hydraulic fracturing as who produces the most gas. Regardless, the numbers are staggering.

For example, Koop reported … “this appears to be the largest and longest frack job in the world, doubling the fracking figures on its partner Apache’s reportedly world’s largest frack, completed in April, 2010. To frack all 14 wells, EnCana may have used 1.8 million cubic metres of water, 78,400 tonnes of sand, and up to 36,000 cubic metres of toxics.”

The sand and chemicals were all imported – considering that each double-trailer sand truck has a capacity of about 40 tonnes, imagine the truck traffic, the wear and tear on roads, etc! These were the efforts of only one company; there were several others operating in the area – and that was two years ago!

The Yukon government, like other jurisdictions, is ill-prepared to deal with such industrial onslaughts. For example, they have not told us how they will address the cumulative effects of excessive water use, contamination of ground water, disposal of toxic wastes, vast increases in green house gas emissions, overuse of existing infrastructure (roads, power, etc.) and demands for more.

Will they demand the urgently needed baseline studies on aquifers and water quality prior to, during and after shale gas exploration and development so that at least groundwater contamination can be identified and tracked (see: B. Parfitt. 2010. Fracture Lines: Will Canada’s water be protected in the rush to develop shale gas?)? Parfitt identifies many other items that should be considered.

The current “head-in-the-sand” rush for gas and oil development in the Yukon is disturbing and irresponsible. It is unnecessary. Why haven’t Yukoners been informed about potential long-term risks associated with methods such as hydraulic fracturing?

Fracking has been banned in many other countries, and in other parts of Canada. Why? Why hasn’t the Yukon government taken notice of this and taken a more cautious view of gas and oil development?

The storm is brewing. Are you taking notice?

Lois and Sandy Johnston

Whitehorse