The Yukon territorial government is inviting request for postings from the oil and gas industry again.
This happens twice a year, and is a chance for the fossil-fuel companies to select areas of the Yukon that they want to bid on.
Once the companies have selected an area, the Yukon government consults with First Nations and invites comments from the public about whether this area is appropriate or not.
It then, occasionally, modifies the size of the area requested, but sometimes it does not.
Bids are then invited from the fossil-fuel industry in order for them to gain the rights to explore for oil or gas.
Note that these bids are not the funds the Yukon government will get for issuing the rights to the potential oil and gas.
Rather, the bids reflect the financial value of the work that the winning company in question is prepared to do.
Now an invitation to select areas of the Yukon through the request-for-posting process does not mean the entire Yukon is available.
A quick visit to the website of the Yukon’s oil and gas branch will show which small areas of the territory are off limits.
Similar in concept to the mining free-entry system much of the Yukon is open to the fossil fuel request for posting system.
The North Slope, territorial and federal parks, and certain First Nation lands are not available to be requested.
And there is one special area that is available.
That area is the Peel Watershed.
This is the very same area that the Peel Watershed Planning Commission has just issued a draft land-use plan for.
The Commission is contemplating withdrawing some sections of the watershed from oil and gas development.
This would mean that the fossil-fuel companies would not be able to perform a request for posting in certain areas.
But the plan is only draft, which means the vast majority of the Peel Watershed is still available to the fossil-fuel companies to request for posting.
This area includes the Turner Wetlands, a vast ecosystem at the heart of the Peel Watershed.
To their credit, the Yukon oil and gas branch do state on a map that shows which areas are open to fossil-fuel development that, “Persons interested in obtaining oil-and-gas rights within the Turner Wetland eco-district should be aware that all or parts of the requested location may not be included in a call for bids.”
They then further mention that “Energy Mines and Resources is currently examining how oil-and-gas development may occur within this area.”
If the oil and gas branch had actually managed to read the draft Peel Watershed land use plan, they might notice that the Turner Wetlands has been designated a Tier One conservation zone.
This means no industrial development, be it future mining claims or the issuance of oil-and-gas rights.
It means the type and extent of fossil-fuel development within the wetlands is not even an issue of discussion, because it will not be permitted.
The Yukon government should permit the Peel Watershed Planning Commission to finish its work and not let business as usual continue within the Peel Watershed boundaries.
There is no point of doing a land-use planning exercise if the very land is being handed out from underneath the planners and being given to industrial concerns.
It is time for an order in council, temporarily removing the Peel Watershed from fossil-fuel request for postings.
Once the Peel Watershed land use plan has been finalized, the decision to proceed or not with postings and permits for oil-and-gas work can then be revisited.
Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.