Frac sand drilling plans in North Arm, including popular beach, raise concerns

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation, the North Slave Métis Alliance and the Tlicho government have all expressed concerns with Husky Oil Operation's plan to drill west of Yellowknife for silica, a type of sand used during the process of hydraulic fracturing.

N.W.T. aboriginal groups weigh in on Husky Oil's plan to drill for frac sand in Tlicho region

Husky's proposed drilling project would take place 50 km west of Yellowknife, in the Chedabucto Lake area on the north arm of Great Slave Lake.

Some N.W.T. aboriginal groups are expressing concern with Husky Oil Operation's plan to drill for high-quality silica sand near a popular area on the north arm of Great Slave Lake.

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation, the North Slave Métis Alliance and the Tlicho Government have all cited issues with Husky's proposed Chedabucto exploration project, which would take place 50 kilometres west of Yellowknife. 

At its north end, the claim block where Husky hopes to begin work includes an area called Whitebeach Point, known for its smooth, white sand and a popular area for beachgoers, fishers and even hunters.

"There are some people who are concerned about the area and the environmental impacts," says Behchoko Chief Clifford Daniels. "Lots of people do go out there from Behchoko. Some people have some traditional trails out there too. Even myself."

The Tlicho government says it's concerned that not all the drilling locations have been specified by Husky and that some drilling may occur in Dinàgà Wek'èhodì, an ecologically-diverse, 590-square-kilometre area that the Tlicho Government and other groups hope to set aside for conservation per the NWT Protected Areas Strategy. 

The Tlicho governments wants the Wek'eezhii Land and Water Board, which is currently reviewing Husky's application to determine whether it should undergo an environmental assessment, to include a measure in Husky's land use permit ensuring the company does not drill in the proposed protected area.

According to staff at the territorial government's Protected Areas Strategy Secretariat, there is only a small amount of overlap between Husky's claim block and Dinàgà Wek'èhodì, known for hosting boreal woodland caribou, wolverines and short-eared owls.

But staff say Husky is allowed to drill there because its land was staked prior to the 2013 institution of a temporary land withdrawal for Dinàgà Wek'èhodì.

That 'F' word again

The Tlicho government says silica's use in the process of hydraulic fracturing — as a "proppant" used to prop open underground cracks created during fracking — has some Tlicho members confused and apprehensive.

"I've heard people say, 'Fracking — where? Is it in the Tlicho area? Where's this going to happen?'" says Daniels. "But that fracking isn't going to happen in our area. It's somewhere else."

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation had given the project its conditional support based on a program of 100 drill holes. But with the company's application now calling for approximately 200 drill holes, "YKDFN is not prepared to support an expanded drill program," the band recently wrote the land and water board.   

Husky hopes to begin its drill program in March or April. 

A decision on whether the project will require an environmental assessment before Husky receives its permit is expected in February.

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