Fracking committee hears from critics and industry

The Yukon legislative assembly's committee on the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing wrapped up two days of public presentations over the weekend.

The Yukon legislative assembly’s committee on the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing wrapped up two days of public presentations over the weekend.

Several experts on the controversial method of natural gas extraction shared their knowledge with the all-party committee on Friday and Saturday.

Representatives from the Fort Nelson First Nation also came to speak about their experience with the shale gas industry.

“It’s come with a huge environmental cost,” Lana Lowe, the director of lands and resources, said in an interview this week. “It’s widespread across the landscape, it’s going to change the landscape forever. It affects the land, the water, the air. It affects the animals, and it affects the people.”

The First Nation didn’t have a chance to have a public conversation about the risks and benefits of the shale gas industry before it set up shop, she said.

“It was sort of put in through the back door as just another gas tenure and just one more road, and just one more pipe and just one more well.”

There was no discussion of hydraulic fracturing and what it could mean for the area, said Lowe.

Now, hunters and trappers carry water with them onto the land because they are afraid to drink the water from the rivers and streams, she said.

They worry about the health of the plants and the animals who have no choice but to drink the water.

They are stopped by industry security guards on roads on the way to their hunting grounds, said Lowe.

They worry about the trillions of litres of water permanently removed from the water cycle each year, she said.

“Our people are afraid that the water cycle is going to be impacted, unbalanced, and that the muskeg is going to dry up and the river is going to dry up. And the effects of that on the beaver and the moose and the fish and the other food and medicine that we need to be Dene and Cree people is in jeopardy because of that.”

Yukoners must understand what the environmental impacts will be and decide if the potential economic benefits will be worth it, she said.

If the territory decides to allow shale gas development, it should regulate industry strongly, manage water carefully and cautiously plan the allowable limits for development, she said.

“I love the Yukon and I love visiting the Yukon. I would hate to see happen there what has happened here.”

Two companies with oil and gas interests in the Yukon also made presentations to the committee.

EFLO Energy Inc. owns a majority stake in the Kotaneelee gas field of southeast Yukon, home to the territory’s only producing gas wells.

“EFLO is here for the long term and would like to develop the significant shale gas resource that we feel exists in Southeast Yukon,” states the company’s presentation document.

There are between five and 10 years worth of conventional gas left, and potentially 50 or more years of shale gas production after that, company representatives told the committee.

It is the shale gas production that would require the use of hydraulic fracturing.

Northern Cross Yukon Limited is currently focused on exploration, and has no plans to frack in the near term, according to that company’s presentation.

However, it would like that method to be a possibility when the company is at the stage where fracking would be useful.

The presentations went very well and were very informative, said Yukon Party MLA Patti McLeod, who chairs the committee, in an interview this week.

McLeod did not have much to say about what pieces of information were particularly interesting or surprising. She also did not comment on whether or not the presentations swayed her one way or the other on if hydraulic fracturing can be done safely if properly regulated.

Other committee members declined to comment because they have been told that the chair will speak on behalf of the committee.

The committee must present recommendations to the legislative assembly by the end of the coming spring sitting.

Before then it will host public hearings in Old Crow, Watson Lake and Whitehorse, said McLeod.

The committee may visit other places as well if the communities express an interest, she said.

Documents from last week’s presentations are available on the Yukon Legislative Assembly website. Transcripts from the proceedings are expected to go up online in a week or two.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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