Yukon government opposes plans for oil exploration in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

An Alaska company plans to start seismic work in a coastal area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge starting in late December.

Alaska company seeks permit to conduct seismic tests starting in late December

In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrate onto the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Associated Press)

Yukon environment minister Pauline Frost says the territorial government opposes oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in all circumstances, and a proposed seismic project is no exception.

The Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation is seeking approval from U.S. regulators to conduct seismic exploration in an area along the refuge's coastal plain. A two-week comment period on the project closed Nov. 6.

While the company promises steps to protect habitat and wildlife, including caribou, the Yukon government says those measures aren't enough.

"We're absolutely opposed to any development and any activity in the Arctic Refuge, so I don't I don't think that's even a discussion that I would endorse," said Frost, who is also the MLA for the predominantly Gwich'in community of Old Crow.

Gwich'in in both Yukon and the Northwest Territories steadfastly opposed petroleum development in the refuge because they worry it would harm the Porcupine caribou herd and its calving grounds. Gwich'in leaders have repeatedly said the herd is vital to their culture and economy.

Yukon Environment Minister Pauline Frost says U.S. regulators haven't considered submissions from the Yukon and First Nation governments. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

In a statement, Canada's environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the federal government also opposes the project.

"The schedule of this project extends into the time that caribou would arrive for calving in the refuge, and the project would foster future development on their core calving grounds," he said. "We believe this represents a significant risk for the herd and for the Indigenous Peoples and northerners that depend on it."

Company promises steps to protect wildlife

In filings with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation said it plans to hire a third-party to conduct the exploration. If approved, the project would run from late December to late May.

"KIC and its operator are dedicated to minimizing the effect of operations on the environment. We are unified in a commitment to environmental excellence and continuous improvement. We will constantly assess our impact on the environment and will apply what past projects have learned over the past several years."

Frost said U.S. regulators have not considered detailed scientific data submission filed by the Yukon and First Nation governments.

Canadian First Nations and environmentalists have joined a U.S. lawsuit aimed at overturning an August decision that opens an Alaska wilderness to oil and gas exploration.

Malkolm Boothroyd of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, which has also signed onto the lawsuit, said he is afraid that outgoing President Donald Trump's administration will push ahead with the project.

President-elect Joe Biden has repeatedly said he opposes oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

Frost said while Biden's election win last week may come too late to put a stop to this particular exploration project, she's hopeful that he'll prevent the Bureau of Land Management from issuing further exploration leases in the refuge.

"I would say that I'm more optimistic now than I was three weeks ago," she said.

With files from The Canadian Press


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