It is that time of year in the Yukon again.
It is when the Yukon government likes to do public consultations on certain legislative and regulatory matters.
So far, input is being sought on the contents of the Yukon Forest Resource Regulations and comments are being invited on amendments to the Yukon Oil And Gas Act.
In a future column the Forest Resource Regulations will be examined. But this week is devoted to the legislation surrounding fossil fuels.
This act of the Yukon legislature rejoices with the most misleading acronym of all time, that of YOGA.
It is not about peaceful meditation and body relaxation.
It is about providing a legal framework to provide access to the land for oil and gas to be extracted.
The combustion of these fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases and causes climate change.
The Yukon government might not have any idea on how to develop a legislative framework to monitor, restrict or even reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
But the government does have some very certain legislative ideas on how to extract more of the direct source of greenhouse gases, that being oil and gas.
One of the many odd aspects of the proposed amendments to the Yukon Oil and Gas Act is section 13.
The existing section states that oil and gas dispositions cannot be offered up by the government in any region of the Yukon where land claims have not been finalized without the consent of the affected First Nation government.
The territorial government is proposing to get rid of section 13.
The reason, according to the government summary document on the proposed legislative changes, is “in order to align Yukon’s oil and gas legislation with common law provisions for consultation with First Nations and enable the Yukon government to open southeast Yukon for new oil and gas activities.”
Common law provisions means that consultation on fossil fuel dispositions in the southeast Yukon could be based on legal precedent, and not on legislation.
Looking back into Yukon legal precedents could find some rather dubious situations.
For example, it could turn out that in regions of the Yukon territory where First Nations have not settled land claims would mean they would not be able to prevent the Yukon government from opening any and all areas to fossil-fuel development.
The legislative need for their consent to be obtained will have been removed from the legislation.
Conversely, those areas of the Yukon that have settled land claims are subject to the Yukon Oil and Gas Act legislation section 14.
This lays out quite clearly the consultation required for the fossil-fuel disposition process between the Yukon government and the First Nation government.
Should the proposed legislation amendments proceed, there will be two processes to consult with First Nation governments for oil and gas dispositions in the Yukon.
The northern Yukon, where First Nation final agreements have been ratified, will follow a legislative process.
The southeast Yukon, where agreements have not been ratified, will follow a common law process.
There is but one Yukon territory, yet there will be two legal backgrounds for consulting on developing oil and gas.
It would seem this legislative change is an attempt to kick start the fossil-fuel industry in the southeast Yukon.
Exploration in the northern Yukon has sputtered to a halt.
The most recent request for postings in the North, the first step in handing out fossil fuel rights, received no submissions.
The Alaska Highway Natural Gas Pipeline is years away, if indeed it ever happens.
This is all very frustrating for a pro-resource-extraction government.
This perhaps explains the need to amend the legislation and trust interest in fossil-fuel development in the southeast will increase.
To do this legislation that ensures First Nation consent is required where final agreements have not been reached will be replaced with the vagueness of common law.
For more information on the proposed changes in the Yukon Oil and Gas act visit the Yukon government’s Department of Energy, Mines and Resources website.
Be sure to check out sections 69 and 70 of the legislation as well.
These sections provide fossil fuel companies with the right to access and possibly expropriate private land.
Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.