After multi-year slump, interest in lands among Yukon oil and gas explorers picks up

The Yukon government says interest was higher than anticipated during the last call for oil and gas companies to flag potential locations for future exploration in the territory.

'This did catch us by surprise' says senior government official of 15 identified targets

Some of the lands identified by would-be Yukon oil and gas explorers (the strip parcels in this map) fall within the Dawson planning region where there is currently no land use plan. (Yukon Government )

The Yukon government says interest was higher than anticipated during the last call for oil and gas companies to flag potential locations for future exploration in the territory.   

"Quite frankly this did catch us by surprise," says John Fox, assistant deputy minister of the government's oil and gas division.

Twice a year, the government invites companies to identify specific locations in the territory where they would like to explore for oil and gas, in what are called requests for postings (RFPs).

Only two requests were received in 2013, and none in either 2014 and 2015. There were also none received in January 2016.

But after the last call in July 2016, 15 requests were received. They were made public last week. 

"We were pleased to get these postings," said Fox, citing the lower interest in previous years. 

Interest in Eagle Plains and Kandik basins 

The 15 RFPs identify lands in the Eagle Plains and Kandik basins that fall within the traditional territory of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nations.

Under the last stage of the government's disposition process, some of the identified lands may then be put out for bidding by companies, but not before a period of consultation. 

Fox says affected First Nations will be consulted, followed by a 60-day public review process.

"The minister will consider the issues and concerns raised... and determine which of the parcels — it could be some of them, it could be all of them, it could be none of them — will go through to the next stage, which is the 60-day public review," said Fox. 

"Then the minister will consider those comments before making a decision on which, if any, proceed to the call for bids."

No fracking allowed

Fox noted that if any of the 15 requests eventually makes it to the competitive bidding stage, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, won't be part of the equation. 

"The government has been very clear in its position on fracking. There is a moratorium on fracking in the Yukon. With these permits, and at the call for bid stage, in the information provided to industry, [we] will be very clear that no fracking will be allowed in the exploration for and development of oil and gas."

'A slap in the face' 

The Yukon Conservation Society says the territory should not be examining any type of fossil fuel extraction.

Sebastian Jones, an energy analyst at the society, says the RFPs are controversial because they contemplate potential exploration in pristine wilderness.

He adds the government shouldn't accept any requests in the Dawson area until there is a final land use plan in place for the region.

"Allowing these parcels to go through the process in the Dawson planning region is opening the door to a world of hurt," said Jones. "It's going to be considered as a slap in the face to the land use planning process." 

Fox says the fact that there is no land use plan will be considered during the consultation phase.