The government’s fracking review committee met for the first time this week.
The committee was formed by a government motion on May 6 after a promise to review hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the territory before any permits are issued for the practice.
It has less than a year left to conduct a rigorous scientific review, facilitate a public discussion, and produce recommendations regarding the highly controversial practice.
The committee’s report is due to the legislative assembly by the spring sitting.
“It’s a major undertaking, I’m sure you know,” said MLA for Watson Lake Patti McLeod, the committee’s chair. “We certainly are planning to have this tabled within our timeframe.”
Fracking involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals into wells deep underground to break apart the rocks and release oil and natural gas trapped inside.
The committee is mandated to determine if the benefits of fracking outweigh the risks here in the Yukon.
“It was a very good introductory meeting,” said McLeod. “At the meeting we of course talked about our mandate and the work going forward, and we named (MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin) Darius Elias as the vice chair.”
Also sitting on the committee are MLAs Currie Dixon, Stacey Hassard, Jim Tredger and Sandy Silver.
McLeod couldn’t say who it will call as witnesses, which communities it will visit, and what timelines will be followed.
“The work ahead will include deciding how to do public consultation and exactly how we’ll do that, which will include which communities that we will be visiting and how often we’ll be going there,” she said.
Other committee members declined to comment on what was accomplished during the first meeting, citing committee rules.
One sticking point for some critics is that the committee’s mandate only requires it to visit Watson Lake and Old Crow for the purpose of consultation.
Other communities may be visited “as deemed appropriate by the committee.”
Yukoners Concerned About Oil & Gas Exploration/Development says their group will try to visit all of Yukon’s communities to consult on fracking, since the government has failed to commit to do so.
The first meeting is scheduled for June 25 in Watson Lake at the recreation complex.
Liard McMillan, chief of the Liard First Nation and an outspoken critic of fracking, will introduce the event, said Don Roberts, the group’s chair.
The goal is to visit every community, but Watson Lake and Old Crow are the priorities, said Roberts.
The group doesn’t have the government’s deep pockets, he said.
McLeod said she finds it “interesting” that some groups have already criticized the committee for how it plans to go about consultation, given that those decisions have not been made yet.
“We have not decided how to move forward for our mandate.”
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