Minister of Energy Mines and Resources Ranj Pillai says the Liberal government will put an end to 15 requests for oil and gas rights in northern Yukon. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Territorial government cancels oil and gas disposition process in northern Yukon

Move comes after consultation with 3 First Nations, Pillai says

The territorial government has put an end to 15 requests to consider oil and gas rights in northern Yukon.

In July 2016 the Department of Energy Mines and Resources received the posting requests, all located in the Eagle Plain and Kandik Basins in northern Yukon.

Normally that would be the first step in the process towards exploration. After consulting with the First Nations and the general public, the Yukon government could have decided to proceed with competitive bids on all or only a portion of the requests.

Instead the Liberals have stopped the process after consulting with First Nations but before public consultation or any reports are done.

“Three northern Yukon First Nations — Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation and the First Nation of Na Cho Nyäk Dun — indicated that they did not support proceeding to a call for bids on the requested postings at this time,” Minister of Energy Mines and Resources Ranj Pillai told the legislative assembly Nov. 23.

Pillai said the territorial government was discontinuing the process and taking more time to consult with the First Nations.

Last election the Liberals promised to support “oil and gas development (not including hydraulic fracturing) on Eagle Plains, in collaboration with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.”

Pillai denied the government was breaking an election promise by cancelling these plans. At the same time he couldn’t tell reporters when the area would be put back out for consideration. That won’t happen until after he talks to the First Nations, he said.

“It’ll be a partnership moving forward between Yukon government and affected First Nations if there’s going to be oil and gas development.”

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Chief Bruce Charlie said some of the areas that were being talked about are habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd. Others were on the head waters of rivers in that area.

There needs to be more consultation “to tell us exactly what kind of work would go on,” he said. “The habitat of the caribou is very important, the headwaters are very important. If anything happened up there in the headwaters, it affects everything downstream.”

Charlie said the Yukon government has agreed to an intergovernmental forum that “would include technical and political representation to address north Yukon oil and gas issues.” No date for that forum has been set.

Pillai said he hopes a deal can be worked out similar to the MOU the government signed with First Nations over mineral rights.

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation Chief Roberta Joseph said she is also pleased with the government’s decision to stop the process.

She said “there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done” to clarify fees and create a clear communications strategy between the Yukon and First Nations governments.

“Hopefully this time will allow us to be able to do that,” she said, adding that companies that apply for permits need to be in good standing.

Of the 15 requests, two were for the Eagle Plain Basin and the rest were for the Kandik Basin.

The Kandik Basin straddles the Yukon-Alaska border northwest of Dawson City, and extends east toward the western boundary of the Eagle Plain Basin.

Posting requests can be submitted to the government twice a year, in the spring and fall. Prior to these 15, there had been none since the spring of 2013, Yukon government officials said earlier this year.

Pillai said ther government received no requests in 2017.

Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent told the legislative assembly his party was disappointed with the decision.

“This is worrisome because it could potentially spell the end of this industry here in the Yukon — one that has a long history of exploration and production with significant revenues flowing not only to the Yukon government, but First Nation governments as well,” he said.

NDP Leader Liz Hanson said she was pleased with the decision.

“The ‘pause’ button that the government has pushed on the oil and gas posting process is an opportune time for this government to do a reality-based assessment with respect to Yukon’s continued involvement in an industry that cannot, does not, survive without significant subsidies,” she said.

The department has never said which companies asked to have a look. Pillai said the 15 requests came from “minimal companies.”

Right now there is only one working in the area, he told the legislative assembly.

The company formerly known as Northern Cross filed a lawsuit against the Yukon government for up to $2.2 billion over its decision not to allow hydraulic fracturing.

The company claims the government effectively cancelled its oil and gas exploration permits in the Eagle Plain Basin and wants to be compensated.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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