The Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD) in Whitehorse on Nov. 12. TD is the third Canadian bank that has decided not to fund development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

The Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD) in Whitehorse on Nov. 12. TD is the third Canadian bank that has decided not to fund development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon government opposes seismic testing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

A third bank, TD Canada, has pulled out of funding in the area

A third Canadian bank has decided not to fund development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD) released a Climate Action Plan on Nov. 9 that includes a provision to not “provide any new project-specific financial services” related to exploration, development or production of oil and gas in the Arctic Circle, including ANWR.

The Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal have also joined the call to boycott projects.

But even as Canadian and American banks continue to announce they will not fund projects, the plan for the first lease sale in the area continues. The new president-elect has said he is opposed to the project, but the Bureau of Land Management expects to hold its first sale in the Coastal Plain in December 2021.

A U.S. lawsuit against the decision to allow the sales is ongoing.

On Oct. 23 the bureau released a proposal for seismic exploration in the eastside of the north slope area. The Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation (KIC) has submitted a plan to conduct seismic tests that will use sensors to map the subsurface and provide data on potential oil and gas reserves.

Public comment on the proposal was open for two weeks and closed Nov. 6.

Vuntut Gwitchin citizens undertook a letter campaign in Old Crow to provide their public comments, in addition to supporting campaigns by CPAWS Yukon and the Alaska Wilderness League.

Both the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Gwich’in Tribal Council oppose the opening of ANWR to oil and gas.

“TD’s recognition of the need to protect this fragile environment comes at a time while the current administration is attempting to fast track destructive seismic exploration for this coming winter. With support of the public, and of organizations like TD, RBC and BMO, the Gwich’in Nation will be successful in our work to protect our sacred lands,” said Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm.

Tizya-Tramm added that drilling for oil and gas “would destroy one of the world’s great wild places, worsen the climate emergency and erode the Gwich’in way of life.”

One of the fundamental concerns about the project from the Gwich’in and environmental groups is that development could interfere with the Porcupine caribou herd. The herd uses the coastal plain as an important calving ground during their annual migration cycle.

The Yukon government has also submitted comments in opposition to the project because of the threat to the Porcupine caribou herd.

“We don’t support the permit as presented,” said Environment Minister Pauline Frost in a statement.

“We have provided significant scientific-based comments to the United States’ Bureau of Land Management to help guide necessary mitigations, like seasonal considerations, to help meet minimum standards in supporting development that does not unnecessarily impact Porcupine caribou. We have submitted our concerns into the permitting process and continue to urge the United States government to live up to their international commitments to protect the Porcupine caribou herd and its essential habitat in Alaska,” she said.

The program area for the proposed project encompasses 542,592 acres and work would begin around December 31, 2020. The company plans to contract a company called SAExploration to undertake the work.

The proposal estimates a work camp would need to be established to accommodate 180 people with around 40 to 50 trailers that would be moved with other heavy equipment on a snow trail, in addition to the construction of airstrips.

KIC has indicated it will use infrared radar systems to identify polar bear den sites prior to the survey, and would attempt to avoid interference with either bears or planned subsistence hunting during the course of work.

In its proposal the company insists that it has the intention and knowledge required to minimize environmental damage in the sensitive area.

The federal government has also submitted comments, primarily around threats to transboundary animals that are covered by international agreements including the Porcupine caribou, polar bear and migratory birds.

“In partnership with Indigenous and territorial governments, Canada has continued to raise significant concerns over development plans in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The schedule of this project extends into the time that caribou would arrive for calving in the refuge, and the project would foster future development on their core calving grounds,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, in a statement.

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

ANWRVuntut Gwitchin First Nation

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