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Assessors seek details on seismic study

Critics have expressed confusion and concern in response to Northern Cross's proposed 3D seismic exploration program in Eagle Plains.

Critics have expressed confusion and concern in response to Northern Cross’s proposed 3D seismic exploration program in Eagle Plains.

Comments on the proposal before the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board closed last week.

YESAB appears to agree that Northern Cross has raised more questions than answers so far in the process.

The board issued a request Wednesday that the company provide more specifics on the project parameters as well as plans to mitigate potential harm to the environment, wildlife, and cultural land use.

The document asks for 26 points of further information.

Some may be fairly straightforward to fulfil. For example, “Describe in detail how shot holes will be plugged.”

Others may require more leg-work.

“As per expert recommendations, please develop a rigorous monitoring plan with the Porcupine Caribou Technical Committee to address both immediate and longer term disturbances on the Porcupine caribou herd from seismic activities in the Eagle Plains area. This plan should incorporate considerations of the impacts and recommendations discussed in the (Porcupine Caribou Management Board) comment submission.”

Northern Cross maintains that the project as proposed will have limited impacts.

Seismic surveying is a method for mapping underground resources.

It involves detonating explosives underground and recording the resulting vibrations. It works like radar to determine the composition of what lies beneath the surface.

A 3D project differs from a 2D project in intensity.

While a 2D project may cut only one main line and a few cross lines, with 3D a comprehensive grid of lines is cut through an area.

But seismic surveying today doesn’t scar the landscape the way it did in the past, said Richard Wyman, president of Northern Cross, in an interview last month.

GPS technology means that surveyors can achieve a reliable grid without cutting straight lines. Instead, trails can meander, avoiding larger trees.

“The lines aren’t going to be straight, not very wide, and it may not involve much brush clearing at all,” said Wyman.

The project is planned to occur within the wintering range of the Porcupine caribou herd.

We don’t know enough about the impacts that winter seismic activity could have on the herd, said Joe Tetlichi, chair of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board.

Northern Cross has also not done enough to consult with the herd’s user communities, he said.

They have met with Dawson and Old Crow but not others, said Tetlichi.

“If anybody wants to do any work on the habitat range or close to First Nation settlement lands, they have to be accountable to the First Nations, regardless if it’s Crown land or not. That’s what you call respect.”

The board would be quite satisfied if no development were allowed to go forward within the caribou herd’s range, he said.

“We know definitely that once we start a small operation it’s going to have web effects. And that’s scary for us as a management board.”

Chief Joe Linklater of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation takes a more moderate perspective.

The project should be allowed to go forward so long as appropriate mitigations are in place, he said.

“There’s a legal obligation on the part of Vuntut Gwitchin and public government through the land claims process to allow activities to happen. The land claims agreement provided for certainty, and that was signed off in the late ‘80s. So this is being done in a lawful way. We are trying to work with government as much as possible to ensure that the highest possible environmental, cultural, wildlife standards are in place when things like this are considered.”

However, he shared the sense of uncertainty over what the project actually entails.

“To me, I think that it doesn’t sound like it’s going to have all that much disturbance, but I guess that my concern is that I’m not all that entirely clear on the level of disturbance that it’s going to have.”

Northern Cross has until July 31 to respond to the information request or let YESAB know when it intends to respond.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at