Oil and gas exploration proposal draws criticism

The Yukon Conservation Society has raised concerns over a proposed 3-D seismic oil and gas exploration project at Eagle Plain.

The Yukon Conservation Society has raised concerns over a proposed 3-D seismic oil and gas exploration project at Eagle Plain.

The project would be the first of its kind in the territory, and would involve cutting a grid of lines at 240- to 480-metre intervals through up to 450 square kilometres of forest.

“It’s a bit of a wake-up call. There’s a lot of line being cut,” said Lewis Rifkind with the conservation society.

The group calls the proposal “a warning to Yukon people about what is in store if the territory is opened up for oil and gas development,” according to a press release.

Part of the society’s concern is that we simply do not know enough about Northern Cross Yukon’s plans for the project.

And indeed, the company has yet to finalize exactly where the project will be and what it will look like.

“We haven’t put precise Xs on the map,” said Richard Wyman, the company’s president.

Northern Cross is waiting on results from a well that is currently being drilled to determine where the seismic survey will be most valuable.

In the meantime it has submitted a broader application to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board covering a region of 700 square kilometres.

The targeted area will be selected from within that “broad area of interest,” said Wyman.

Seismic surveying is a method for mapping underground resources.

It involves detonating explosives underground and recording the resulting vibrations. It works like radar to determine the composition of what lies beneath the surface.

A 3-D project differs from a 2-D project in intensity.

While a 2-D project may cut only one main line and a few cross lines, with 3-D a comprehensive grid of lines is cut through an area.

Northern Cross has proposed source lines 240 to 480 metres apart with nine-metre drill holes at 60-metre intervals.

Each hole will be packed with one kilogram of dynamite.

The perpendicular receiver lines will be similarly spaced.

But seismic surveying today doesn’t scar the landscape the way it did in the past, said Wyman.

The wide, straight cutlines still visible at Eagle Plain were largely cut between 1955 and 1972, he said.

A more recent seismic project in the area by Anderson Resources Ltd. shows little lasting impact, said Wyman.

“I think that anybody going to visit the place where Anderson conducted its program, you wouldn’t even know where they were. And I think we should have a very similar result.”

GPS technology means that surveyors can achieve a reliable grid without using the straight lines of the past. Instead, trails can meander, avoiding larger trees.

“The lines aren’t going to be straight, not very wide, and it may not involve much brush clearing at all.”

The source lines are planned at three metres wide, and the receiver lines at 1.75 metres.

Wider access trails may be cut at five metres where access does not exist already.

The work will be done in winter, when snow cover will protect the ground cover from disturbance.

And recent forest fires in the area have naturally cleared much of the land, making further brush clearing and tree removal unnecessary, said Wyman.

Another concern raised by the conservation society is that the proposal does not address how the project will meet guidelines set out in the North Yukon Regional Land Use Plan.

The plan sets out a maximum linear disturbance (including roads, trails and cutlines) of one kilometre per square kilometre in the Eagle Plain zone.

Two questions unanswered by the proposal are, what is the current level of linear disturbance in the area, and how much will be added by this new activity?

The conservation society raised concerns that this exploration project could exceed the threshold, and that the question was not even addressed by the proposal.

But given the forest fires and existing trail network, “the additional footprint that would be new would be pretty insignificant,” said Wyman.

The question will be determined by the land use planning council, said Rob Yeomans with YESAB.

The council is currently working on dissecting the proposal to decide if it conforms to the land use plan.

The project should not be approved until these and other questions are properly addressed, said Rifkind.

“Can this project be done if there are enough mitigations? Well probably, but in the proposal that has been submitted, we don’t see that yet.”

YESAB will accept public comments on the proposal through June 27.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at jronson@yukon-news.com