An all-party committee of Yukon MLAs held two days of public hearings this week to gather information for a report on the risks and benefits on hydraulic fracturing or fracking in the territory.
The committee called on six experts from science, medicine and industry, but a wide range of views, and a general lack of information about the relatively new practice, made for a discussion that went well beyond the mechanics of extracting oil and gas.
Conservation zoologist Donald Reid wasn't the only expert to tell the panel he doesn't know what fracking would mean.
“In natural ecosystems, many factors come into play, and we often lack answers to the question of what is the probability of a particular outcome,” Reid said.
He pointed out that industrial land use can have unexpected results. For example, wolves can take advantage of new trails to stalk caribou.
Dr Eilish Cleary, chief medical officer of Health for New Brunswick, raised a completely different issue: whether fracking could be too successful, and create too much money too fast.
“I would focus a lot more on the psycho-social aspects because that is where I have seen the biggest problems,” Cleary said.
Cleary said the health risks of fracking aren`t just related to contamination: there is also stress, fear, conflict and protest, all of which impact health.
Dr. Charl Badenhorst is a medical health officer for the Northeast Health Service District of British Columbia.
One of his concerns was about what comes after the fracking is done: who cleans up?
“Some industries will take what they can and go,” he said. “Some industries, if you plan it better, you say what will you leave behind.”
‘All these projects require us to hire northerners’
John Hogg, vice president with MGM Energy Corp., was the only industry representative invited to speak to the panel.
He argued that shale gas could become a viable sector of Yukon’s economy, and said it is possible to develop it responsibly.
“I think you can displace diesel, which is not as clean as natural gas,” Hogg said.
Hogg said Yukon has to potential to become self-sufficient in energy, “through hydro, wind, geothermal and gas from shale.”
He also pointed to jobs created in the N.W.T. in fields as diverse as geology, camp services, wilderness guides, charter flights, catering, logistic support and industrial fire protection.
"All these projects require us to hire northerners," he said. "This brings job opportunities and cash flow to the communities."
The two-day hearings wrapped up yesterday.
MLAs will now make plans to visit 12 Yukon communities to gather more opinions on fracking.
The goal of the Select Committee on the Risks and Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing is to present a report to the entire legislative assembly this fall.