Finger pointing follows Northern Cross setback

The chair of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board says Northern Cross never met with the board to discuss possible impacts of drilling in the Eagle Plain basin on the caribou herd.

The chair of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board says Northern Cross never met with the board to discuss possible impacts of drilling in the Eagle Plain basin on the caribou herd.

Joe Tetlichi said he would gladly have sat down with the oil-and-gas company to share long-term data and discuss how best to protect the herd. But he said Northern Cross never approached him.

“Since they’re the ones that want to do activity on the habitat, on the winter habitat range of the Porcupine caribou, you would think they would send us an invitation to sit down,” he said.

“We’re very disappointed … (in) their lack of interest in working directly with PCMB to address caribou management concerns.”

Last week, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board sent Northern Cross’s proposal back to the drawing board by referring it to executive committee screening, a higher level of assessment. Northern Cross must now decide whether or not to resubmit a proposal.

In its report, YESAB said it was “unable to predict how the Porcupine caribou herd will interact with the project and as such is unable to determine the significance of adverse sociocultural effects related to the access to and use of the Porcupine caribou herd.”

According to the report, more information should have been provided about how First Nations and the Inuvialuit use the caribou in the project area and how access to the caribou might be affected by industrial activity. It should also have included a process to establish safe operating distances and critical numbers for the herd.

In the worst-case scenario, YESAB found, the drilling might cause the herd to abandon a large portion of its winter habitat in the area.

The report quotes a Vuntut Gwitchin citizen who said the project “could lead to the permanent destruction of what I hold most closely to my heart.”

But Tetlichi said the management board has data dating back from the 1970s that might have helped Northern Cross fill some of the information gaps.

“We’re not against development. We’re a neutral body,” he said. “Our doors are open to giving out information to proponents.”

Still, it’s unclear whether all the necessary data actually exist.

Matt Clarke, a regional biologist with the Yukon government, said the Porcupine Caribou Management Board’s technical committee made a push to deploy GPS collars on caribou starting in 2013, “with this project on the horizon.” The collars can provide information about habitat use and how it changes after a disturbance. But that kind of research takes time.

“Some of the information is still being collected to enable those analyses to happen,” he said.

He said industry and government share the responsibility of providing all the information that’s required for a project to proceed. But he said the government and the management board have taken steps to provide more information that would be useful to Northern Cross.

“I think there’s a responsibility on industry through an environmental assessment process to do some of those analyses,” he said.

He said Northern Cross recently had the option to participate in a study that involved putting out remote cameras to study how caribou use linear disturbances, but that “didn’t materialize.”

But not all fingers are pointing at Northern Cross in the wake of this decision.

YESAB has also come under criticism for bumping the company back to the start of the assessment process after reviewing the project for nearly two years.

Rich Thompson, chair of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, said inefficient assessment processes are making the Yukon “an impossible jurisdiction to do business in.”

“We’re extremely worried that people are simply throwing up their arms and saying ‘Forget about it,’” he said.

He said uncertainty about the outcome of an evaluation and how long it could take is a problem.

“If YESAB rejected the file for an understandable set of reasons, that would at least bring some finality to the process.”

Thompson said he’s heard from “multiple sources” that YESAB is plagued by a lack of resources and too few experienced people.

Still, in this case, YESAB’s hands may have been tied. A project in the lowest level of assessment, as Northern Cross’s proposal was, can only be referred to executive committee screening at the end of an assessment – not partway through.

And YESAB can’t just kick a project out of assessment because of a lack of information. It can issue information requests to a proponent – Northern Cross received four separate requests – but as long as the company makes some kind of response, YESAB has to complete its assessment.

When asked what YESAB’s decision means for Yukon’s fledgling oil-and-gas industry, Premier Darrell Pasloski had little to say.

“Fundamentally, what we have to offer as a primary economy is a resource-based economy,” he said. “Resources will create opportunities for great-paying jobs for Yukoners.”

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The new Yukon Liberal caucus poses for a photo during the swearing-in ceremony held on May 3. (Yukon Government/Submitted)
Liberal cabinet sworn in at legislature before house resumes on May 11

Newly elected MLA Jeremy Harper has been nominated as speaker.

XX
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for May 5, 2021.… Continue reading

Crystal Schick/Yukon News Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speak at a COVID-19 update press conference in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. They formally announced that as of Nov. 20, anyone entering the territory (including Yukoners returning home) would be required to self-isolate with the exception of critical service workers, those exercising treaty rights and those living in B.C. border towns
Vaccinated people won’t have to self-isolate in the Yukon after May 25

Restaurants and bars will also be able to return to full capacity at the end of the month.

An RV pulls into Wolf Creek Campground to enjoy the first weekend of camping season on April 30, 2021. John Tonin/Yukon News
Opening weekend of Yukon campgrounds a ‘definite success’

The territorial campgrounds opened on April 30. Wolf Creek was the busiest park seeing 95 per cent of sites filled.

The site of the Old Crow solar project photographed on Feb. 20. The Vuntut Gwitchin solar project was planned for completion last summer, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Old Crow is switching to solar

The first phase of the community’s solar array is already generating power.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
One new case of COVID-19 in the Yukon

Case number 82 is the territory’s only active case

Flood and fire risk and potential were discussed April 29. Yukoners were told to be prepared in the event of either a flood or a fire. Submitted Photo/B.C. Wildfire Service
Yukoners told to be prepared for floods and wildland fire season

Floods and fire personelle spoke to the current risks of both weather events in the coming months.

From left to right, Pascale Marceau and Eva Capozzola departed for Kluane National Park on April 12. The duo is the first all-woman expedition to summit Mt. Lucania. (Michael Schmidt/Icefield Discovery)
First all-woman team summits Mt. Lucania

“You have gifted us with a magical journey that we will forever treasure.”

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

Whitehorse goings-on for the week of April 26

The Yukon Department of Education in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. The department has announced new dates for the 2021/2022 school year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Yukon school dates set for 2021/22

The schedule shows classes starting on Aug. 23, 2021 for all Whitehorse schools and in some communities.

Letters to the editor.
Today’s mailbox: rent caps and vaccines

To Sandy Silver and Kate White Once again Kate White and her… Continue reading

Most Read