A controversial proposal by Northern Cross to explore for oil and gas in the Eagle Plains area has been sent for a higher level of environmental screening.

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) undertook a review of Northern Cross's plan, but found it was unable to determine what impact the project would have on the Porcupine caribou herd, and the local First Nations that depend on it. 

"We're disappointed by that decision," said Northern Cross CEO David Thompson. "We spent almost two years in the assessment process, and have tried very hard to answer every question that came our way."

Those answers weren't good enough, according to YESAB.

According to an evaluation report, YESAB's Designated Office "is unable to determine the probability or magnitude of changes to caribou migration and seasonal distribution in relation to project activities and the associated duration, reversibility, and extent of such effects."

Northern Cross

Northern Cross drilled four new exploration wells in the Eagle Plains area of Yukon in 2012 and 2013. (Northern Cross)

The Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Tr'ondek Hwech'in and the Gwich'in Tribal Council have all expressed concerns about the project, saying crucial baseline data about the caribou were lacking. The First Nations pushed for the project to go to YESAB's executive committee, for the highest level of review. 

Northern Cross is proposing to drill up to 20 exploration wells in the area over several years. Thompson said the company would spend about $50 million per year on the work.

"It's a pretty significant investment from the private sector," Thompson said. "We've had to idle our operations for a considerable period here."

The review by YESAB's executive committee could take more than a year.