The Yukon government is looking to hear from the public about two requests for oil and gas rights in the Eagle Plain Basin.
The basin, located in the north Yukon, has been on the oil and gas radar since the 1950s.
With an estimated six trillion cubic feet of natural gas, Eagle Plain is the most promising sedimentary basin in the territory.
Calgary-based Northern Cross has already holds the rights to a substantial portion – 500,000 hectares – of the basin. It’s been working in Eagle Plain since 1994.
Back then it was looking for crude oil. The company did manage to produce a few hundred barrels of oil, but when the territorial economy hit the skids in the late ‘90s, Northern Cross put its plans on hold.
In 2011, it partnered with an offshoot of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, which is helping to bankroll an exploration project focused on natural gas.
The company is currently drilling a test well as part of a resource assessment of its property.
The requests for land are kept confidential, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what company made this latest application.
Not that it really matters. If more lots are made available they will be awarded through an open bidding process. The company that made the request doesn’t get any special advantage.
It’s too early to say if Northern Cross will put in a bid, said president David Thompson.
“Our focus right now is on the properties we have,” he said.
However, he didn’t rule it out entirely.
“We’re evaluating it and will be making a decision in due course as to what our response might be,” said Thompson.
It’s still not a sure thing.
As part of the disposition process there is a 60-day public review period for the potential leases, which opened on Jan. 25.
The Yukon Conservation Society will be submitting its concerns about impacts oil and gas development could have on the Porcupine caribou herd and watersheds in the area, said Anne Middler, the society’s energy coordinator.
The society will also be pushing for the government to require the collection of baseline environmental data in advance of “any kind of activity whatsoever,” she said.
After the 60-day consultation process is complete, the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources will present a report for the minister, who has the final say on whether or not the land should be made available.
If he approves it, the land can go out to tender.
In addition, any exploration activity has to go through the Yukon Socio-economic and Environmental Assessment Board.
When Northern Cross sought approval to employ hydraulic fracturing in Eagle Plain last year, the public outcry over the controversial method – which involves pumping pressurized water and chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release gas – caused the company to withdraw its proposal.
The public was already very apprehensive about fracking.
Only a few months earlier, after oil companies expressed interest in exploring the Whitehorse Trough, a wave of protest activity pushed the government into placing a five-year ban on oil and gas development in the area.
It also committed to having a public dialogue over the future of Yukon’s oil and gas industry, but no date has been set for that yet.
The Yukon Conservation Society is pushing for a more substantive consultation process to take place.
“I think that Yukon people are far too intelligent and engaged to merely participate in a dialogue process that is just designed to placate our concerns,” said Middler. “What we’re asking for is a participatory democratic process where all the facts are put on the table and all the concerns are put forward, not glossed over.”
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