Premier plugs rich future for Watson Lake

Premier Darrell Pasloski visited Watson Lake this week to speak of ambitious plans for a healthy, diverse economy in southeast Yukon.

Premier Darrell Pasloski visited Watson Lake this week to speak of ambitious plans for a healthy, diverse economy in southeast Yukon.

“I believe there’s great potential here, so I’m very excited about it,” said Cheryl O’Brien, president of the town’s chamber of commerce.

“I can’t say it’s going to be in the next three years, but I believe in the future we will have the ability to use our natural resources for the benefit of the whole Yukon.”

The local economy has been somewhat depressed in recent years, she said, and the community is eager to change that.

Pasloski spoke Tuesday at a luncheon hosted by the chamber.

He outlined key sectors where the southeast has development potential: oil and gas, mining, forestry and tourism.

Of these, oil and gas is perhaps the most potentially lucrative, but also the most conflict-ridden.

“It has been reported that Apache Resources has discovered the largest shale gas deposit in the world, totalling some 48 trillion cubic feet in the Liard Basin straddling the Yukon-B.C. border,” according to the premier’s speaking notes for the event.

“The Conference Board of Canada’s newly-published report, The Role of Natural Gas in Powering Canada’s Economy, estimates that $181 billion in investment will occur in British Columbia between 2012 and 2035 – more than $7.5 billion per year on average.

“Yukon should be entitled to receive its fair share of this investment from the gas located on its side of the border.”

But in order to realize the potential of those natural gas resources, Apache has been using a controversial extraction method called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on the B.C. side of the border.

Fracking involves injecting pressurized water, sand and chemicals into wells deep underground to shatter the rock, releasing gas trapped inside.

Many worry about the health and environmental consequences of bringing fracking to the Yukon.

The government has committed to territory-wide dialogue on oil and gas development, including fracking, Pasloski told the crowd of about 50 people in Watson Lake.

In December, the Yukon Party government removed a clause from the Oil and Gas Act that gave veto power over oil and gas development to unsigned First Nations in their traditional territory.

The Kaska, whose traditional territory is in the southeast, have been outspoken in their opposition to fracking.

The Liard First Nation did not receive a formal invitation to the chamber of commerce event, said Chief Liard McMillan.

“Having a meeting to discuss resource development in the southeast Yukon immediately on the heels of the conflict over the (Oil and Gas Act) legislative change is quite disrespectful,” he said.

It’s particularly disrespectful that Watson Lake MLA Patti McLeod, who attended the event, did not extend an invitation to the First Nation, said McMillan.

By not including the First Nation in the discussion, the chamber and the Yukon government are ignoring signed agreements that uphold the veto power, he said.

The move also flies in the face of a recent Appeal Court decision that strengthens the First Nation’s right to consultation with regards to any development on their land, said McMillan.

No formal invitations were issued for the event, besides the one asking the premier to speak, said O’Brien.

There were posters around the community advertising the event, and everyone was welcome to attend, she said.

McMillan did not attend, because he found out about the event after it had happened, he said.

But he was able to track down Pasloski while he was in town, and the two sat down for a one-on-one meeting.

“It was definitely appreciated, for sure,” said McMillan.

Both were quiet on what was actually discussed, but the premier said it went well.

“The chief and I had, actually, a very good meeting.”

McMillan plans to discuss the meeting with Kaska officials today, he said, and may have more to say about it on Monday.

While the Watson Lake Chamber of Commerce understands that some investors may be scared away by conflict between the local First Nation and the territorial government, they largely support the removal the First Nation’s veto power, said O’Brien.

“The majority of the chamber felt it was a positive step forward to get some sustainable industry in southeast Yukon.”

The community feels good about the opportunity to develop Watson Lake’s economy, she said.

Its main concern is that economic development must be supported with appropriate social services, like doctors and alcohol treatment centres, said O’Brien.

Pasloski expressed a commitment on behalf of government to provide the necessary regulations and infrastructure to ensure that development is done in an environmentally responsible manner.

The territorial government hopes to ensure that Yukon citizens, First Nations and businesses are able to derive maximum benefits from any economic development.

“Our goal is to enable communities to realize their full economic growth potential,” said Pasloski.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com