Yukon environmentalists want the government to force oil giant Chevron to clean up a contaminated site in the Peel Watershed before renewing the company’s leases to explore there.
Chevron is reapplying for 525 iron and mica claims along the Crest iron ore deposit in the northeast corner of the watershed. Government reports from the last 15 years reveal that a gravel pad near an airstrip at the site, contaminated with oil, could harm waterfowl and grizzly populations in the area.
“The company has a moral and legal obligation to clean up any contamination it’s responsible for, and the Yukon government has a responsibility to the Yukon public to make them do that before any of the leases are renewed,” said Karen Baltgailis, executive director for the Yukon Conservation Society, in a news release issued Thursday.
Chevron is reapplying for the 21-year leases because they expire in the next couple of years.
A cleanup is required under law, say the conservationists. The Yukon Quartz Mining Act requires compliance with all remediation regulations and laws if a lease is to be renewed.
The gravel pad only sits inside one of the leases, said Jesse Devost, spokesperson for the Yukon’s Energy, Mines and Resources Department.
The Yukon government will require Chevron to clean up the site before giving them their lease, he said.
“The other ones, if they’re in good standing, there’s likely nothing stopping them from being renewed,” he said.
But if push comes to shove, it’s the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs that is responsible for making sure Chevron cleans it up, he said.
During devolution, both the feds and the Yukon split up responsibility for contaminated sites and the Crest fell under Ottawa’s purview.
“It’s polluter pays,” said Line Gagnon, spokesperson for Indian and Northern Affairs.
“Chevron is responsible because they haven’t abandoned it,” she said.
She wouldn’t say whether it was Indian and Northern Affairs’ responsibility to force Chevron to clean the area up should the company refuse. A public servant on the matter wasn’t available by deadline.
But the issue might never get that far.
Currently, the Yukon government is working with Chevron to see what needs to be cleaned up at the site before the lease can be granted, said Bob Holmes, director of mineral resources for Energy, Mines and Resources.
The site has been used by Bonnet Plume Outfitters and they are also involved in the discussion, he said.
“It’s a little bit complicated because the site is 50 years old,” he said.
“It’s just a matter of sitting down and finding a solution and I’m confident that will happen.”
There is not a tight deadline because the leases still have a couple years left to go, he said.
Chevron Canada is waiting for a government inspection of the site to finish at the end the month, said spokesperson Leif Sollid from Calgary.
“Chevron will do any remediation work required, based on the inspector’s report,” said Sollid.
“We will be complying with all laws and regulations,” he said.
The conservation society also asked whether Chevron would give up its claims on the Crest because the Peel Watershed Planning Commission recommended large chunks of the region be protected.
That proposal is under consideration by the Yukon government and several First Nations with traditional territory in the watershed. Once the governments makes a decision, Chevron will decide what to do.
“We’ll then assess the implications for this very significant resource,” he said.
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