Support for fracking does not equal consent: Dixon

The legislative assembly's fracking committee agrees that the government should have the support of affected First Nations before allowing fracking in the Yukon, but not that it must, according to one committee member.

The legislative assembly’s fracking committee agrees that the government should have the support of affected First Nations before allowing fracking in the Yukon, but not that it must, according to one committee member.

The committee charged with reviewing the risks and benefits of fracking in the Yukon released its final report Monday.

The first recommendation was “that the government of Yukon should have the support of the Yukon First Nations whose traditional territories are affected before allowing hydraulic fracturing.”

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the committee agrees that fracking should require First Nations consent, said Yukon Party MLA and Community Services Minister Currie Dixon, who was one of six members of the all-party committee.

“That’s not what it says,” said Dixon in an interview Tuesday.

“It means that the government should seek to establish the support of the First Nation whose traditional territory is affected by the activity prior to it occurring.”

Every word was carefully debated by the committee, so it would be a mistake to read “consent” when the report says “support,” he said.

“The wording as you read it now, is what were able to come to consensus on.”

Committee members from other parties responded that it is absurd to suggest that the committee is recommending something besides requiring the consent of affected First Nations before fracking is allowed to proceed.

“That means consent. I mean, how else can you interpret that?” asked NDP MLA Jim Tredger.

“Any Yukoner who reads that will know what that means.”

Klondike MLA and Liberal Leader Sandy Silver said he felt that all the committee members were on the same page in recognizing the importance of First Nation support for a potentially massive resource extraction project.

“Am I missing something? Isn’t support, support? Can you give negative support? I don’t get it.

“I was extremely glad to have an all-party committee agree at the meetings that it is of extreme importance that the First Nations with affected traditional territories would absolutely have to be partnering, co-managing, whatever you want to call it, in this particular resource extraction.”

Recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions, too, reinforce that projects of this magnitude cannot proceed without First Nations consent, said Silver.

“Recommendation or not, that’s what has to happen. So (Dixon) can mince words all he wants.”

The government must now take the committee’s recommendations and decide what to do with them.

If the first recommendation is implemented in a way that requires First Nation consent for fracking projects, it would be significant.

In 2013 the Council of Yukon First Nations unanimously passed a resolution banning fracking within its members’ traditional territories.

However, the two First Nations most likely to be affected by fracking are not members of that umbrella group.

Yukon’s most developed oil and gas project is in the Kotaneelee field of southeast Yukon, in the traditional territory of the Liard First Nation.

Back in 2012 that First Nation was in a very public fight with the Yukon government over plans to remove a legislative veto LFN had held over oil and gas development there.

Now the legislative committee has recommended that the veto be reinstated, at least when it comes to fracking.

The company with a majority stake in that natural gas project, EFLO Energy Inc., told the Yukon government last year that it may be looking to get at shale gas reserves by fracking in the next five to 10 years.

The Liard First Nation has indicated that it will oppose all fracking in the territory.

The Eagle Plain basin, within the traditional territory of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, is still in the exploration phase, and is not likely to be developed for production in the near future. Fracking, if it ever happens there, would be kicked even further down the line, since conventional oil and gas reserves are easier and cheaper to get at.

Vuntut Gwitchin has passed a resolution opposing fracking in its territory until the practice can be proved 100 per cent safe.

In addition to recommending a veto for First Nations, the fracking committee has suggested a number of measures to reduce the potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing.

It has recommended that baseline data for water, air, wildlife, human health and land be collected so that impacts can be properly measured and managed.

The committee also recommended that the government complete a thorough study of the potential economic impacts of developing a fracking industry in the territory.

The full report is available on the Yukon Legislative Assembly website.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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