Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on April 8. Yukon Energy faced a potential “critical” fuel shortage in January due to an avalanche blocking a shipping route from Skagway to the Yukon, according to an email obtained by the Yukon Party and questioned in the legislature on Oct. 14. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on April 8. Yukon Energy faced a potential “critical” fuel shortage in January due to an avalanche blocking a shipping route from Skagway to the Yukon, according to an email obtained by the Yukon Party and questioned in the legislature on Oct. 14. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon Energy faced ‘critical’ fuel shortage last January due to avalanche

An email obtained by the Yukon Party showed energy officials were concerned

Yukon Energy faced a potential “critical” fuel shortage in January due to an avalanche blocking a shipping route from Skagway to the Yukon, according to an email obtained by the Yukon Party and questioned in the legislature on Oct. 14.

“We had a situation last year where we were in a position where fuel was very scarce and we were at a very critical point. I think that my office and the Yukon Energy Corporation have an obligation to take that into consideration and make sure that we take lessons learned from that and that we do have a contingency plan,” said Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai.

In January 2020, after an avalanche closed the Skagway pass, the interruption to the supply chain for fuel created an “edgy” situation, according to an email between Yukon Energy staff obtained by the opposition.

The information was obtained by an access to information request by the Yukon Party that produced a copy of an email from Jan. 16 between Yukon Energy officials.

“Our supplier gets their fuel from Skagway. They have supply for a few days,” wrote a Yukon Energy employee, whose name is redacted in the copy of the email. The employee says they have purchased fuel and are bringing it up from the south.

“My contact says they aren’t panicking yet but are a bit edgy with the situation,” the employee continues.

The email is addressed to Yukon Energy president Andrew Hall, vice president Michael Brandt, vice president Ed Mollard and vice president Gary Gazankas.

Any member of the public, including politicians and journalists, can access government records under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy legislation. According to the Yukon Party, the initial request made in June yielded “no records found” and a complaint had to be filed before obtaining the email.

On the floor of the House, Yukon Party MLA Stacey Hassard noted that the temperatures the week of the email went down to -40 C.

“The prospect of running out of fuel during such frigid temperatures is certainly scary, especially for Yukoners who rely on electricity to heat their homes,” Hassard said.

“What is the government’s plan to ensure that Yukoners do not have to be a bit edgy around our fuel supplies this winter?” he said.

In response to questioning, Pillai told the legislature that he would discuss “lessons learned” with Yukon Energy from the situation and report back to the House.

“It really came down to, in one particular case, (the) Skagway pass being closed. We were in a position where normally we would see shipments of fuel come over that pass,” Pillai said.

“We did work very closely with the Minister of Highways and Public Works to monitor that situation and to move as quickly as we could to move fuel over, but the team at Yukon Energy Corporation were very innovative. They reached out across the territory and to ATCO as well to ensure that we had fuel,” he said.

Pillai said the situation with the pass closure was “a perfect storm.”

The opposition linked the fuel shortage to an earlier discussion on the decision to cancel a thermal power plant and rely on rented diesel generators for back-up power, but Pillai said regardless of the technology used, the issue, in either case, is obtaining fuel.

“I’m going to make that commitment to the members opposite to come back and work with Yukon Energy to ensure that they do have a contingency plan so that we’re ready in case something like this happens in January 2021,” he said.

Pillai said he doesn’t anticipate COVID-19 border closures affecting supply.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

Yukon Energy