Yukon legislative committee split on fracking
Environmental activist says report adds up to a moratorium in all but name
After months of public consultations throughout the territory, the Yukon Legislature's select committee on hydraulic fracturing could not come to a consensus on whether hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, should be allowed in the territory.
The six-member all-party committee released its report today.
It says the committee also could not agree if it can be done safely or whether the government needs the support of most Yukoners to allow it — but it has recommended that the government have the support of Yukon First Nations whose traditional territories are affected before allowing hydraulic fracturing.
The committee was set up in 2013 to recommend what policies should be in place to regulate hydraulic fracturing in Yukon.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a form of natural gas extraction in which a pressurized mix of water and other substances is injected into shale rock formations to release trapped natural gas.
Between January and the end of September in 2014 the committee held hearings at the legislature and in communities around the territory.
The committee members did agree on 21 recommendations. They mainly recommend that more research be done on fracking's impact on land, air and water. They also call on government to keep the public informed on the issue.
Sebastian Jones with the Yukon Conservation Society says the report's recommendations highlight how little is known about the extraction technique and what effect it would have on the environment, and how much research needs to be done.
"If you read the recommendations as conditions that have to be met prior to fracking taking place in the Yukon, then to me at this stage it looks like we have a moratorium on fracking," Jones says.
In a statement, Yukon premier Darrell Pasloski says the government will review the report's findings before deciding how to proceed.
Summary of recommendations
- The Yukon government should have the support of the Yukon First Nations whose traditional territories are affected before allowing hydraulic fracturing.
- The Yukon government should consider options for continuing an informed public dialogue among Yukoners about the issue of hydraulic fracturing and the oil and gas industry more generally.
- The Yukon government should make all relevant environmental data open, transparent and available to the public.
- The Yukon government should respect First Nation final agreements and its ongoing obligations towards non-settled First Nations in addressing any issue related to hydraulic fracturing.
- The Yukon government should conduct a thorough study of the potential economic impacts of developing a hydraulic fracturing industry.
- Baseline ground and surface water data should be collected for an appropriate period of time, in order to ensure that comprehensive data is available.
- A better understanding of the impacts and interactions of hydraulic fracturing fluids on groundwater should be developed.
- Requirements related to water intensive practices should be adhered to, even if non-water options for shale formation fracturing are to be considered.
- Adequate seasonal thresholds should be established to ensure the usage of fresh water does not exceed watershed capacity.
- Companies should be required to make public the chemicals and chemical compounds that would be used, including case numbers, volumes, percentages and concentrations prior to any hydraulic fracturing activity.
- Research should be conducted to demonstrate whether well integrity can prevent migration of liquids or gases in the long term.
Greenhouse gases and other air emissions
- Air quality baseline data should be collected for an appropriate period of time, in order to ensure that comprehensive data is available.
- Research should be done to develop a method to effectively measure and monitor greenhouse gas emissions over the full life cycle of natural gas.
- Research should be conducted regarding fluid and gas leakage specific to the unique permafrost conditions in Yukon.
- Steps should be taken to ensure that volatile organic compounds are not released during development and production.
Land and seismic impacts
- Baseline data on wildlife and wildlife habitat should be collected for an appropriate period of time, in order to ensure that comprehensive data is available, and that the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on wildlife be studied.
- Baseline data on seismic activity should be collected for an appropriate period of time, in order to ensure that comprehensive data is available.
- The impacts of seismic activity in Yukon should be studied to evaluate the seismic risks caused by hydraulic fracturing and to avoid the development of flow paths to fresh water.
- The impacts of hydraulic fracturing on Yukon’s permafrost should be thoroughly researched. This would include research on the interaction between groundwater and surface water, regional and local scale pathway assessments and evaluation of permafrost degradation at wellheads.
Human health and social impacts
- Health related baseline data should be collected for an appropriate period of time, in order to ensure that data is available.
- Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health should be mandated to conduct a thorough human health risk assessment where hydraulic fracturing development is proposed in Yukon.