The Yukon NDP Opposition wants the territory to ban hydraulic fracturing.
Better known as “fracking,” it’s a method for extracting pockets of natural gas from shale deposits by blasting pressurized water, sand and chemicals deep underground.
The technology has triggered an exploration bonanza in the United States. It’s also raised the ire of conservationists who warn that shoddy fracking can pollute groundwater.
In the Yukon, Northern Cross has indicated it may use fracking as it explores for oil and gas at Eagle Plains.
The private, Calgary-based company has partnered with a big Chinese gas producer to conduct approximately $20 million worth of exploration work over the next few years.
The Yukon Party government has touted the project as one of the territory’s best solutions to its looming power pinch. But the NDP worries it could create an environmental mess.
“In other jurisdictions, drinking water, water tables and whole watersheds have been contaminated with toxins and carcinogens,” Jim Tredger, the NDP’s MLA for Mayo-Tatchun, said on Wednesday.
“There have been, as yet, no public discussions or any efforts to honestly and accurately describe this nonconventional form of extraction to Yukoners. The Yukon public has never been informed of the possibility of fracking in the Yukon and has never been consulted.”
He called for an immediate fracking ban, and a round of public consultations before the technique is allowed.
The Yukon is currently reviewing fracking regulations used elsewhere, replied Energy Minister Brad Cathers. The government will be “engaging appropriately with the public on this issue,” he said.
But a ban’s not in the cards.
More rules are on the way, said Cathers. The territory currently lacks regulations to govern the transport and storage of natural gas, he noted.
These would be needed if Northern Cross’s plans become reality.
The company estimates it’s sitting on some six trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It wants to pump this to the surface, chill it to minus 160 degrees Celsius so it condenses to liquid, and truck it to energy-hungry mines within the territory, or to generation facilities connected to the Yukon’s energy grid.
Kevin Barr, the NDP’s MLA for Mount Lorne-Southern Lakes, also weighed in.
He brought up the case of Jessica Ernst of Rosebud, Alberta, who accuses EnCana of poisoning the groundwater beneath her property outside Calgary.
“After her well water was contaminated by nearby fracking, Ms. Ernst went public and showed the world how she could light her tap water on fire,” said Barr.
“Ms. Ernst received horrible burns and rashes from taking a shower. Tests revealed high levels of ethane, methane and benzene in her water. At least 15 other water wells in the community were contaminated.”
Health and environmental concerns are “paramount” for the government, said Cathers. And he touted the territory’s existing regulatory regime.
Tredger tried again on Thursday. Quebec’s banned fracking, he noted, calling on the Yukon to do the same.
“I know the NDP is big on moratoriums for everything, including moratoriums on air traffic over the downtown, which was a big issue for the NDP leader in a previous sitting,” said Cathers in reply.
“But, again, I point out that there are no active proposals in this area. The member is presumably relying on surfing the Internet or watching a newscast from down south related to this area and to specific situations, without understanding those situations themselves and the fact that hydraulic fracturing has actually been in existence since the 1950s.”
In North America, 60 per cent of oil wells and 85 per cent of gas wells have been hydraulically fractured, said Cathers.
He accused the NDP of cherry-picking examples of fracking gone wrong.
“It’s like pointing to the mining industry and pointing out environmental liabilities, such as Faro, as the example of what the member might view the entire industry to be like,” he said.
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