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Gas wells like this one dot the landscape of northeastern B.C. (CBC)

The Yukon government has presented its long-awaited policy on hydraulic fracturing. It says the controversial practice can go ahead in one area of the territory, but only with the support and involvement of affected First Nations.

"We're going to move in a cautious and responsible way," says Scott Kent, Yukon's minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.

The government says it will focus on fracking in the Liard Basin, an area in the southeast corner of the territory known to be rich in natural gas reserves.

"This area, the Liard Basin, is only 2 per cent of the entire Yukon land base," says Kent, "so we feel this is a reasonable compromise." 

"It wouldn't be correct of me to say that we can manage this down to a zero-risk environment, but it's managing it and ensuring that we protect human health."

Scott Kent

'We need to step up,' says Scott Kent, Yukon's minister of Energy Mines and Resources. (CBC)

The government's policy is in response to recommendations from the Yukon Legislature's select committee on hydraulic fracturing. After months of public consultations throughout the territory, the six-member all-party committee could not come to a consensus on whether hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, should be allowed in the territory. It released its final report, with recommendations, in January. The government says it has accepted all 21 recommendations.

'Social license'

Opposition parties say that's not good enough. They say the public consultations showed that Yukoners are concerned about risks associated with fracking.

"In Yukon, we don't have the social license regarding fracking," says Yukon Liberal leader Sandy Silver, who sat on the committee.

"As far as select committees go, we blew the doors off of any other select committees, in terms of people coming out to express themselves," Silver says. "And it wasn't a fifty-fifty divide, it was pretty much unanimous [against fracking]."

Yukon NDP leader Liz Hanson says the government has a history of soliciting input, then ignoring it.

"They say one thing and are doing another," Hanson says. "Those recommendations all called for a number of studies, for a whole series of events and actions to take place before any fracking was to be considered in this territory."

Election issue

All parties agree on at least one thing - the government's fracking policy is likely to be a key issue in next year's territorial election. 

"It's a big issue in the Yukon," says Silver. "I believe we have three parties with three distinct approached to oil and gas development in the Yukon."

Kent, however, reduces it further, saying there are those for and those against oil and gas development. The Yukon Party, he says, "stands alone."

"We need to step up," Kent says. "I think it's our responsibility to develop [resources], in a careful and responsible way."