Crunch time for Eagle Plain exploration

A late start to the winter has Northern Cross in a hurry to finish its first season of exploration activities at Eagle Plain before spring.

A late start to the winter has Northern Cross in a hurry to finish its first season of exploration activities at Eagle Plain before spring.

“We had hoped to be underway in November, but we didn’t get enough snow until December, and then the Christmas season was on us,” said Northern Cross president Richard Wyman.

The company received permits for a 3-D seismic exploration project in mid-November, but it required 10 centimetres of snowpack on the ground before the project could start. The layer of snow is meant to protect vegetation while the company is operating in the area. The permits for this season are good until the end of April, which means Northern Cross doesn’t have a ton of time left.

Right now the company is in the first of a three-phase project to map underground oil and natural gas resources, Wyman said.

First, they have to cut nearly 400 kilometres of trail. The second phase, which Wyman hopes will start sometime in the next two weeks, will see workers drilling nine-metre shot holes. Those will then be filled with one kilogram of dynamite each, and the reverberations from the resulting explosion, echoing back to recorders like radar, will help the company understand what’s really underground.

Wyman said the slow start to the season was a problem, but the recent stretch of warm weather actually helped.

“In some ways it helped because it’s easier to work in warmer weather. We actually got rain at Eagle Plain and when it froze up, it’s actually easier to get around on. On the whole, the warm weather actually helped more than it hurt,” he said.

The big push right now is to finish the trail slashing as quickly as possible, Wyman said.

But that part of the project is drawing flak from some subcontractors in Whitehorse over what they say are unfair hiring practices.

Brandon Duncan, the president of Higher Level Exploration, said he thinks Northern Cross should be hiring more Yukon workers and companies, especially for the slashing contract.

“They gave the slashing contract to a company from Fort Nelson, and they’re hiring picker trucks from Fort St. John. Both of those jobs could have gone to companies in the Yukon,” Duncan said.

“Why should Yukoners be in favour of a project if they’re not going to hire locals?” Duncan asked.

But Wyman said the company is hiring considerably more local workers than expected. When Northern Cross applied to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, it estimated that around 18 per cent of the jobs would go to Yukoners. As of Thursday, the company was far above that.

“Right now we have 64 people at the camp and at the Eagle Plains motel working for us. Of those, 30 are from the Yukon. The assertion that we aren’t hiring Yukoners is absolutely false,” Wyman said.

Wyman said that he couldn’t speak specifically to individual contracts because of privacy concerns, but the company uses a transparent tendering and request-for-proposal system to hire its workers and subcontractors.

Given the time crunch, making sure Northern Cross chooses the best company to get the jobs done on time, safely and with as little environmental impact as possible is most important, Wyman said.

“If someone has an issue with how we do business, they should be talking to us about it, not whining publicly,” Wyman said.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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