Yukon Liberals ‘wishy washy’ on oil and gas, activists say

A local activist group is accusing the Yukon Liberals of being “out of step” on oil and gas development in the territory.

A local activist group is accusing the Yukon Liberals of being “out of step” on oil and gas development in the territory.

On Thursday, Yukoners Concerned About Oil & Gas Development/Exploration held a press conference in Whitehorse to denounce the Liberals for supporting a local oil and gas industry and to declare their support for the NDP in the upcoming territorial election.

“Developing local oil and gas means instead of reducing our carbon footprint, the Liberals would actually see it increase,” said Rick Griffiths. “That’s going in the opposite direction from all progressive governments, not only in this country but abroad.”

Yukoners Concerned is calling for a complete ban on oil and gas development in the Yukon, including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and conventional drilling.

Don Roberts, who leads the group, claimed the majority of Yukon’s oil and gas deposits are shale resources and would have to be extracted by fracking.

“So any kind of oil and gas extraction is going to be fracking, even though they might say it’s conventional to start with,” he said.

The group is especially concerned about the Liberals’ support for Northern Cross’s proposed oil and gas exploration project in the Eagle Plain basin.

Northern Cross wants to drill up to 20 conventional wells in the region. The company has said it has no current plans to use fracking, but hasn’t ruled out the possibility down the road.

“It’s possible sometime in the future,” president Richard Wyman told the News last November.

Roberts is also worried about the future of the Whitehorse Trough. A temporary moratorium on shale gas development in the area, imposed in 2012, will soon expire.

Roberts said he, Griffiths and Mary Ann Lewis recently met with Liberal Leader Sandy Silver and candidate John Streicker.

“They would not commit to a moratorium nor a ban on fracking,” he said.

In contrast, he said, the NDP “listen to the public opinion and have steadfastly opposed fracking.”

“Right now, we’re supporting the NDP,” he said. “They’re not wishy-washy like the Liberals are.”

But on Thursday, Silver maintained his party is opposed to fracking.

“We’ve been very clear on this,” he said. “We would not issue permits for fracking.”

He said people can call that a moratorium or a ban if they want to.

The Liberals do support the Northern Cross project, however. Silver said that’s because the party respects the North Yukon regional land use plan, which designated that area for development.

“I’m not going to tell Yukon First Nations what they can and cannot do on settlement land,” he said.

With respect to the Whitehorse Trough, he simply said the Liberals support land use planning, and the party isn’t “chomping at the bit to drill, baby, drill.”

In some ways, differences between the Liberal and NDP positions on oil and gas seem like an exercise in semantics.

NDP Leader Liz Hanson said today that her party would place a ban on fracking in the territory.

But she wouldn’t weigh in on conventional oil and gas, or on the Eagle Plain proposal. She said she believes in the Yukon’s environmental assessment process, which hasn’t been completed yet for the Northern Cross project.

She did say the Whitehorse Trough moratorium should be extended indefinitely.

And she argued that the NDP has been clearer on its position than the Liberals.

“The Yukon Liberals basically sat on the sidelines while we pushed this issue,” she said.

The decision by Yukoners Concerned to attack the Liberals this week suggests they see the party as a significant threat to the NDP’s chance of winning the next election.

“We’re seeing the Liberals as sliding in on the coattails of (Yukon Liberal MP) Larry Bagnell and the federal Liberals,” Lewis said.

She said Bagnell did well during the last federal election because people voted strategically to avoid another Conservative government.

“Where we’re at now is not the same situation,” she said. “And … I’m feeling myself that (the Yukon Liberals) are hoping to slide in on (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau’s goodwill.”

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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