Lois Moorcroft denounces the Yukon Party government's support for fracking in Yukon
On Wednesday, April 15, Yukon NDP MLA Lois Moorcroft gave a speech in support of her motion to condemn the Government of Yukon’s decision to proceed with hydraulic fracturing against the will of Yukoners, the recommendations of the Select Committee Regarding the Risks and Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing and the concerns of the scientific community.
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Let me say at the outset that I do not lightly condemn the Government of Yukon decision to proceed with hydraulic fracturing against the will of Yukoners, the recommendations of the select committee and the concerns of the scientific community.
In fact, it saddens me that the Yukon Party does not stand with science, with First Nations and with the public in its determination to proceed with hydraulic fracturing. Above all, the Yukon Party government’s actions in support of hydraulic fracturing have eroded public trust.
As the vice-chair on the Select Committee Regarding the Risks and Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing, I was honoured to hear the thoughtful comments from citizens at public hearings held in 12 communities and to hear from scientists, government officials, industry, regulators, health practitioners, and boards established under the land claims agreements as the committee conducted its work.
As I will outline this afternoon, the Yukon public and Yukon First Nations are opposed to the Yukon Party plans to allow industry to develop oil and gas in the Liard Basin using the controversial and harmful practice of hydraulic fracturing. That opposition has been expressed frequently in person, in writing, in song and in costume. At some of our hearings, we had the caribou come to town.
The Yukon Party is opening the door to fracking in Yukon, despite Yukoners’ opposition. If it’s not safe for Yukon; it’s not safe in the Liard Basin. As Yukon First Nations and others told the committee, you can’t extract two percent of the land mass. The Earth is a system. Water systems are connected, and whatever harm we do cannot be undone.
The most recent opposition I will note, following the government’s announcement that it will proceed with hydraulic fracturing in the Liard Basin, is that a group of Kaska members have formed the Kaska Society for the Protection of our Lands and Resources to fight against the government’s plans.
The Yukon NDP stands with the Yukon public, who are opposed to hydraulic fracturing. The Yukon NDP stands with First Nations, which are opposed to fracking. The Yukon NDP stands with science. The scientific evidence does not exist to prove that hydraulic fracturing is safe — in fact, quite the opposite, as I will show.
We cannot support development of an oil and gas industry that would use enormous volumes of our precious water resources to inject a cocktail of harmful chemicals underground in order to extract shale gas, with a vague notion that it will bring economic benefit to the Yukon.
There has been no assessment of potential infrastructure costs, there has been no assessment of potential health and social services costs, and there has been no assessment of potential environmental costs. There’s no evidence that hydraulic fracturing produces long-term employment for the local economy. Indeed, we heard from the Fort Nelson First Nation that development of oil and gas using hydraulic fracturing in the Liard Basin — at the other end of the same basin that this government wants to develop — has not benefitted that First Nation. We’ve heard there have been harmful effects, in fact, on the communities, on the land and on the habitat.
In the mining industry, 67 percent of jobs are held by workers from Outside. This is for an industry that has been ongoing in Yukon for over 100 years. There are questions about whether the Yukon would see any significant job creation, as the access road for Kotaneelee starts in Fort Nelson, not in Yukon.
The Yukon NDP supports the principles of science. As the MLA for Mayo-Tatchun said yesterday in his tribute to the bridge building competition, we need young, enthusiastic citizens, trained in scientific methods, with a can-do attitude. The keys to learning are engagement, presentations of real challenges, research, sharing and collecting of information, putting forth hypotheses, building and testing those hypotheses, and bringing information learned to the next project.
Those words are quite relevant to the work of the select committee. Its mandate was to gain a science-based understanding of the technical, environmental, economic and regular aspects of hydraulic fracturing, and to determine whether allowing hydraulic fracturing is in the public interest.
Mr. Speaker, I will argue that the Yukon Party government has had a consistent agenda since 2011 in support of hydraulic fracturing — a pro-fracking agenda that preceded the establishment of the committee, a pro-fracking agenda that operated during and in spite of the work of the select committee, and now a pro-fracking agenda that is found in the Yukon government response of April 9 to the select committee report that was issued on January 19.
The Yukon Party agenda was demonstrated by, for example, its legislation to remove the requirement for First Nation consent before development occurred from the Yukon Oil and Gas Act, from the Premier’s statements supporting the oil and gas industry at the Denver Gold Forum during the time the committee conducted its work, from the leaked Energy, Mines and Resources PowerPoint presentation on the government response to the select committee report.
Mr. Speaker, it is the Yukon Party government’s pro-fracking agenda in the face of opposition from a majority of the Yukon public and opposition from Yukon First Nations that this motion condemns.
I will speak about the select committee’s recommendations and the Yukon government response. A thorough read of its response shows that the Yukon government hasn’t actually accepted all of the recommendations of the select committee, and rather, that they have changed the meaning or watered down the intent. The recommendations must be met before fracking is even considered in Yukon. The report says nothing of going ahead with fracking and responding to a stripped-down version of the recommendations.
Considering science — with hydraulic fracturing, the Earth is the laboratory. There is no modelling. There is no other planet that we can use. Tests are being done where hydraulic fracturing is taking place. There are known harms associated with hydraulic fracturing and more science is emerging weekly. I will refer to a few recent examples of studies on air pollution and note concerns about water, habitat and climate change.
I will refer to the Council of the Canadian Academies’ report, Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada. This expert panel was established through a motion from energy ministers for Canada and for all jurisdictions to look at harnessing science and technology to understand the environmental impacts of shale gas extraction. That report concluded, among other things, that not enough is known and that regulatory regimes are not robust and are not based on sound science, contrary to what is asserted by members opposite.
Mr. Speaker, western science does not have years of data. It does not have generations of data as First Nations have and which have led First Nations to oppose hydraulic fracturing. Yukon First Nations, in their oral traditions, their passing down of stories and their culture, have generations of knowledge about the land and the water, the animals and their habitat, and because of that knowledge, they oppose hydraulic fracturing.
We stand with Yukon First Nations. As legislators, we have a moral and a legal obligation to respect the law and to respect land claim agreements. In submissions to the committee from First Nation citizens, leadership and elders in the form of resolutions, letters, petitions and, above all, the testimony at public hearings, we heard, without exception, opposition to hydraulic fracturing occurring on the traditional territories of any Yukon First Nation.
The Yukon public has not given social licence for hydraulic fracturing. The industry recognizes that they want and need social licence but government is not willing to do so.
Social licence can be translated quite simply as meaning widespread support of the public. I would suggest that 7,000 names on a petition submitted in this Assembly in opposition to hydraulic fracturing shows that there is not support or social licence for hydraulic fracturing. The Yukon NDP respects and agrees with the public’s position informed by science and the experience of other jurisdictions that hydraulic fracturing has not been proven safe and should not occur here in the Yukon.
I will go through some of the select committee report — and I want to note that we agreed to work toward reaching a consensus in meeting our mandate. The committee, however, could not reach consensus to make recommendations on the following matters: whether or not hydraulic fracturing can be done safely; whether or not hydraulic fracturing should be allowed in Yukon; whether or not social licence from the Yukon public is necessary before considering hydraulic fracturing in Yukon; and whether or not to proceed with specific regulatory development of hydraulic fracturing.
The committee did agree on a number of recommendations that “should be addressed before hydraulic fracturing is considered.” This is where the government and the members opposite are fundamentally in disagreement with what the committee has recommended.
The committee’s intent in the wording of that initial outline on the recommendations is that those recommendations should be met before development occurred. The government has made the decision that they are going to open up the Liard Basin and then they will do all these other things.
There are 21 recommendations. They are in great depth. They deal with many matters, and I will touch on some of them this afternoon.
The government’s response was to say that they have accepted the report, and I will show how they have changed the meaning and watered down the intent, primarily by determining that they will proceed now before considering the concerns that are raised and the recommendations that are made. Those speak to water, to greenhouse gas emissions, to land and seismic activity, to human health and social impacts, to economic impacts and to matters of regulations.
I will speak to a different vision that the Yukon NDP holds — one that respects the findings and recommendations of the select committee report, one that supports a diverse local economy that does not shortchange the rights of future generations to enjoy the environment that we hold dear today and that we are privileged to enjoy.
As a mother and a grandmother, I want my children to be able to drink the water from the Yukon River. I am here to work for the well-being of future generations — as First Nations say, “to work for the rights of future generations for seven generations to come”.
As I have stated before in this House, the animals, the fish, the birds, water and trees — the Earth itself is alive. We do not have the right to destroy life for a short-lived fossil fuel economy. I am determined that while holding office as an MLA, I must act for social justice and for environmental justice. That is why I stand today to speak for this motion.
The Yukon Party is opening the door to fracking in the Yukon, despite Yukoners’ opposition. I think it is important to go back to the beginning. We need to look back to February 3, 2012, when a government press release told an unsuspecting public that, during the twice-yearly disposition process, 12 areas of interest were targeted by oil and gas companies — all of them in the Whitehorse Trough, a 4,113-square kilometre area of land between Carmacks and Carcross. It is the most populated stretch of land in the territory. More than 75 percent of Yukon’s population lives there. This was to be the catalyst of what can only be viewed as Yukon’s oil and gas awakening.
The government set a 60-day consultation period. Meetings were held in different communities throughout the Whitehorse Trough so that Yukon citizens could provide comments on any environmental, socio-economic or surface-access concerns that they might have. I image that that first meeting didn’t go quite as planned when, after the presentation by Oil and Gas Resources branch staff, they were bombarded with questions from the floor. That first meeting was to set the tone for the next two months.
On March 5, I attended the meeting in Mount Lorne, where more than 80 community members listened to the presentation from staff. We were told about Yukon’s world-class regulations already in place and that is an assertion, I will repeat, that has been contradicted by the Council of Canadian Academies. We were told that we had nothing to fear from an industry that had been doing this work for years. The community was not convinced.
During the question and answer portion, people asked thoughtful questions that showed the depth to which they had been researching the issue of hydraulic fracturing. It is certainly an issue that I have had a considerable amount of research time for since the establishment of the select committee.
Mr. Speaker, by the time the first public meeting was held in Whitehorse at the Transportation Museum, the department had changed their format. It was no longer an information session with a question and answer period. It was now an open house. Oil and Gas staff stood in front of colourful panels to answer questions as the public moved through the room, angry and disturbed because there was no oral presentation. There was no public question and answer period. There was no being heard by one’s neighbours. Citizens felt they were being ignored and that their opinions were being silenced by the format. Some attendees of the open house speculated that the format had been changed to avoid the heavy fire and opposition that had been raised in Mount Lorne and in many previous communities.
By the next week, the format was once again changed back, in time for the meeting at the Hootalinqua fire hall in the riding of Lake Laberge. The hall was packed. People were standing along the walls and at the back of the room. Audience members sat patiently through the presentation, where they were told by one official that if the rules weren’t followed, he could be counted on to head out to enforce the rules, baseball bat in hand.
You can imagine the response to that comment. Talk about overreacting to the public’s right to participate in our democracy and to participate in critical decisions that government has to make about the future. People asked questions and raised concerns, and over and over again were told not to worry — world-class regulations were already in place. Yukon was ready for this industry.
The meetings were then taken north to Carmacks to a packed house. The presentation was met with similar disbelief and concern as all the others. No one in the community of Carmacks was buying it.
In the background of those 60 days, an organic group of activists had come together to create Yukoners Concerned about Oil and Gas Exploration/Development. They attended every meeting with a petition in hand. This was the beginning of the ongoing work that this group of passionate, informed and steadfast citizens continues to pursue today.
By the time the final meeting was held at the High Country Inn, hundreds of people were now following the proceedings and they came out and filled the space.
Speaker after speaker raised concerns over the development of hydraulic fracturing in the territory. They held nothing back. They spoke of their distrust of government, the weakening of democracy and their fears for our water and environment.
If one thing was clear, Mr. Speaker, it was that the people were unified when they said no to fracking. On April 12, the government issued a press release from the minister then responsible that removed the Whitehorse Trough from potential development. In the release, he said that what we heard during the public review period is that many Yukoners have concerns and questions about oil and gas exploration and development in the Whitehorse Trough, and the recent public review was our first real opportunity to hear from Yukoners on the possibility of oil and gas exploration rights being issued in the Whitehorse Trough.
In a follow-up media interview, the then minister also said that what we heard is that there are a lot of Yukoners who have concerns and questions.
Mr. Speaker, one only has to ask: What has changed? Yukoners still have concerns and questions. There is still widespread public opposition to fracking. The Yukon Party government is pursuing its own agenda and is breaching the public trust, replicating the Peel consultations. It’s more than disappointing that all of the hard work of the select committee process appears to have just been a formality, because it’s clear that work was ongoing behind closed doors concurrent with the work of the select committee.
In my outline, I referred to the fact that scientific inquiry into hydraulic fracturing is ongoing. I should provide a brief definition of hydraulic fracturing. It’s a drilling process that injects, under high pressure, a mixture of chemicals and water into shale rock deep below the surface of the Earth, causing fractures, or cracks, in the shale in order to extract oil and gas. Some of the chemical mixture is returned after the rock has been fractured.
The science tells us that between 20 and 80 percent of the mixture doesn’t return to the surface and it’s unknown where it does go. That uncertainty, in and of itself, is reason for caution. Hydrogeologists presented to the committee on the connections and pathways between waterways and the potential for destruction of water.
Another aspect of hydraulic fracturing that’s important to recognize — and again, the Council of Canadian Academies, or CCA, report referred to that — is that there is about a 60-year history of hydraulic fracturing using horizontal drills. However, the modern, multi-stage, hydraulic fracturing is a different approach and a more recent approach that CCA indicates has been used in Canada for about 10 years. Under that method of fracking, the vertical drill goes down to a kickoff point, and then it goes horizontally, and a number of explosions occur along a long length of pipe to inject the chemicals and water and to cause fractures so that the shale can be returned.
That is not a procedure that has been widely studied for the long-term impacts that it can have when, as I said, it has only been in use for about a decade.
The incredible volumes of water that are used and the damage to water systems are one of the deepest matters of concern. Water is vital for life. Damage to streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, oceans — none of that is in the public interest. What we destroy, we can never replace. Looking at aerial photographs of areas with widespread fracking shows just how barren the land becomes after hydraulic fracturing. Nobody knows yet what long-term damage it may cost.
The select committee mandate was to gain a full science-based understanding of the technical, environmental, economic and regulatory aspects of hydraulic fracturing and current Yukon legislation and regulations. It was also to facilitate an informed public dialogue, to hold public hearings in Watson Lake and Old Crow and other communities — ultimately we determined to hold hearings in 12 communities — and to consider whether hydraulic fracturing could be done safely if properly regulated.
The committee was then directed to present its findings and recommendations on whether allowing use of hydraulic fracturing was in the public interest.
We had presentations and we held public proceedings in this Chamber for four days, inviting a number of presenters to bring forward information to facilitate that informed public dialogue. The committee met with Yukon government departments of Environment, Justice, and Energy, Mines and Resources, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, the Yukon Water Board, the Energy Committee from the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Yukoners Concerned About Oil and Gas Exploration/Development group, the Yukon Conservation Society, and Dr. Brendan Hanley — and the committee conducted a fact-finding mission to Alberta.
To facilitate the informed public dialogue, we had a number of industry, regulatory and scientific presentations. Those included hydrologist, Gilles Wendling, who noted that multiple pathways exist for gas to escape a well and well leaks can be immediate or occur after a number of years. He noted the connections between ground and surface waters were complex and that in Yukon we are still developing our understanding of water resources and how they behave.
The BC Oil and Gas Commission focused on how the industry is safely regulated. The BC Oil and Gas Commission said it does not assess cumulative greenhouse gas emissions or monitor health effects directly.
The Pembina Institute spoke to the gaps in knowledge that include naturally occurring radioactive materials and the disposal of NORMs, of gaps in knowledge about greenhouse gas emissions. The overlapping infrastructure that occurs with this oil and gas development fragments the landscape, increasing the footprint and cumulative effects. Regional and land use strategies should be in place prior to development — that was their suggestion, and that’s a recommendation that the committee heard from First Nations and from citizens in many presentations, both written and oral.
We had industry representatives from EFLO Energy Incorporated, Northern Cross (Yukon) Limited and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. I’m only going to refer to the EFLO presentation because the proposal from the government is to develop oil and gas in the Liard Basin, which is where the Kotaneelee is located. The EFLO presented that there would be economic benefits from the development of the Kotaneelee field through the creation of jobs, taxes, royalties and spinoff benefits and the local production and use of natural gas. They did, however, note that small-scale hydraulic fracturing to meet only local needs is not feasible.
Mr. Speaker, hydraulic fracturing cannot be small scale, and it is a complete fantasy that hydraulic fracturing would be done in order to provide local energy sources. That development would not occur without it being used for national and international markets — markets that, I note, are flooded at the moment.
Bernhard Mayer, a professor of geoscience, noted the general lack of scientific information about the impacts that hydraulic fracturing could have on groundwater.
Rick Chalaturnyk, a professor of geotechnical engineering, provided information on the geology of shale gas plays, on how well casings are constructed and tested, and how monitoring of well casings can be done at a technical level. He and many others have noted, though, that well casings fail and that a high percentage of well casings will fail over time.
Mark Jaccard, a professor of resource and environmental management, discussed some of the macro-economic issues of natural gas and fossil fuel markets. He advised against public funding of large infrastructure projects and suggested avoiding reliance on the tax revenue from natural gas projects due to the likelihood of a boom-and-bust scenario. He noted that a small jurisdiction like Yukon should be exploring renewable or zero-emission options as part of its energy system.
Donald Reid, an associate conservation zoologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada, focused his presentation on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on wildlife in the Yukon. He noted that the use and potential contamination of water, the air pollution and infrastructure development and the noise produced by fracking are some of the impacts that could negatively affect wildlife habitat. In light of climate change, he questioned the ethics of contemplating new hydrocarbon developments.
That is only a brief snapshot of the scientific evidence that was presented to the select committee, and I want to, as I noted earlier, provide a bit of information from a fairly recent study. The March 2015 Journal of Environmental Science and Health published an article where researchers took six-hour average measurements of air pollution, instead of the traditional 24-hour average. They found that pollution levels tend to spike at certain times of the day and under certain weather conditions, which previous studies had ignored. The study found that the closer people lived to drilling sites and other gas-production facilities, the more likely they are to exhibit symptoms of toxic exposure.
The study was based on observed conditions in Washington County, Pennsylvania — population 28,000 — using emissions reports from nearby fracking sites and weather conditions over 14 months. The researchers also compared illness reports to the weather conditions and time of day. They found that residents living in the area would have toxic-level exposures more than enough to account for their reported illnesses.
The most common health effects reported for residents living near fracking sites include shortness of breath, coughing, chronic fatigue and skin burning. There are many others. There are new scientific reports being released on a regular basis.
Industry asserts that there is no harm caused by hydraulic fracturing, and regulators insist that any harms can be managed or mitigated by robust regulations. But scientists told the committee, “Do not believe anyone who tells you there is no harm caused by hydraulic fracturing.”
I am going to turn again to the CCA report on the environmental impacts of shale gas extraction and what they had to say about regulations. They said that shale gas developments pose particular challenges for governance because the benefits are primarily regional, although adverse effects are mostly local and cut across several layers of government. The Canadian regulatory framework governing shale gas development is evolving. Many aspects are not based on strong science and remain untested. Evolving regulations are not robust.
There have been specific problems with water use for oil and gas activities in the Liard Basin. The BC Oil and Gas Commission 2012 annual report issued a number of active short-term water-use approvals at various times during the year, and those were held by 50 companies. The massive draw of water used for fracking in the Liard Basin took so much water from tributaries that there was risk of a drought.
On August 2, 2012, the BC Oil and Gas Commission issued a directive suspending water withdrawals for short-term water use by the industry, due to low stream flow conditions. Several larger rivers and lakes less affected by the drought were exempted. On November 14, the suspension was lifted for all rivers in the Peace River drainage area, but it was maintained for smaller rivers in the Fort Nelson and Liard River drainages. The water suspension was lifted completely on January 23, 2013.
Mr. Speaker, I think that action alone of the BC Oil and Gas Commission, which had to suspend water withdrawals because of its harmful effect on the tributaries of rivers in the Liard Basin, should convince the government that they’re heading down the wrong path.
I spoke at the outset about how we stand with First Nations. In the select committee’s report, there is a summary of what we heard from Yukon First Nations. The Council of Yukon First Nations has adopted a resolution in opposition to hydraulic fracturing, and there are several member nations of the Council of Yukon First Nations that signed on to that. I’m going to refer to the First Nations’ participation and what they said. We met with some First Nations in-camera; we met with others at committee public proceedings; we received submissions in writing; and we heard from many First Nation citizens at the public hearings. We offered translation services where they were requested and, in the community of Old Crow, there were translation services provided in Gwich’in. First Nation elders were invited to give an opening prayer in a number of communities.
The committee’s first public hearing was held in Watson Lake, and Liard First Nation elders and citizens spoke of their opposition to hydraulic fracturing. They spoke about the need to protect fish, wildlife, people and the water for future generations. That theme came back repeatedly throughout our hearings.
The Daylu Dena Council is part of Liard First Nation and the Kaska Nation, and they don’t recognize the British Columbia/Yukon border dividing their traditional territory. I would note also that the Gwich’in Tribal Council does not recognize the boundaries dividing Yukon and Northwest Territories.
Coming back to the Daylu Dena Council — its seat of governance is in the Liard Basin — that council described their experiences interacting with the oil and gas industry and the BC Oil and Gas Commission. They expressed concerns about industry practices and they noted shortcomings with the BC Oil and Gas Commission. Those concerns included timber use, sump sites, multiple access roads and a lack of planning and baseline data. The submission highlighted the potential negative impacts on water and wildlife from hydraulic fracturing. Now the government has said that they will not proceed without support from First Nations — and I’m going to quote: “Based on the many uncertainties that still exist, Daylu Dena Council is not supportive of hydraulic fracturing in Yukon.”
Mr. Speaker, the committee then travelled to the community of Old Crow and held a public hearing. In Old Crow, we heard from Jeffrey Peter, Paul Josie, William Josie, Vicky Josie, Erin Linklater, Tammy Josie, Brandon Kyikavichik, Bonnee Bingham, Robert Bruce, Esau Schafer, Danny Kassi and Fanny Charlie.
Mr. Speaker, I’ve read those names into the record today because in motion debate last week I referred to the submissions and I quoted from the submissions made by Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation citizens to the committee, and I neglected to include all of their names. I would urge the public to go to the Legislative Assembly website and to the Select Committee on the Risks and Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing website where they can listen to the public hearings. They can read the transcripts, but people can also hear what people said. It was moving testimony.
I have spoken to many Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation citizens and leadership since the government announced its decision to proceed with hydraulic fracturing and they put the government on notice that they don’t like what the government is doing. They don’t agree with the government’s decision to frack in southeast Yukon. They told me that the Gwich’in Tribal Council, like the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, remains opposed to fracking.
The Teslin Tlingit Council was one of the First Nations that passed a resolution opposing hydraulic fracturing in their traditional territory and they noted that they have a responsibility to protect land, water and the cultural way of life of the Teslin Tlingit. They mentioned chapter 14 of the final agreement, which makes the Government of Yukon responsible for the protection of water supplies. They expressed their concerns about uncertainties plaguing all facets of the hydraulic fracturing process, including regulations and management. They spoke about the Government of Yukon and that it needs to reconcile First Nation interests through the exercise of consultation in ways that are in keeping with the honour of the Crown.
The Teslin Tlingit Council noted recent aboriginal rights and title legal decisions and they cautioned that the Government of Yukon should risk inviting further legal challenge. But it seems, as we’ve seen ever since this government took office, that they are inviting legal challenge from First Nations. We see that with Bill S 6 — with the amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act.
I have to ask whether the Yukon government’s submission to the federal government to add a provision for binding policy direction from the Government of Canada — binding policy direction that could then be delegated to a Yukon minister — was sent off to Ottawa because the government wants to be able to proceed with hydraulic fracturing.
In Dawson City, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation leadership voiced their opposition to hydraulic fracturing. They spoke about the resolution they had passed. They noted that fresh water is the most valuable for their ecosystems — animals and homelands — and that it should not be exposed to industry without their consent. They said to the committee that the right thing for you to do is to go back and to recommend a ban on hydraulic fracturing. They referred to the Government of Yukon’s Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan and the risk of inviting further legal challenges if the Government of Yukon proceeded with hydraulic fracturing when Yukon First Nations oppose it.
The Ross River Dena Council noted that the Kaska Nation has pristine land. The Ross River Dena Council and the Kaska people live in Yukon, B.C. and the Northwest Territories. It includes many Kaska nations, all of which are opposed to fracturing. The chief encouraged the government to look at economic alternatives, such as adventure and cultural tourism, instead of — and I quote: “really harmful ways of making money that’s through extraction of minerals and gas and trees.”
The Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation also passed a General Assembly resolution in opposition to hydraulic fracturing in its traditional territory and in Yukon.
The Selkirk First Nation said, at the public hearing in Pelly Crossing, that hydraulic fracturing was too controversial and that there should be a very long wait before it is considered. Elders spoke about the need to have clean water now and for future generations.
The First Nation of Na Cho Nyäk Dun also provided the committee with a copy of its annual General Assembly resolution in opposition to hydraulic fracturing. It calls on the Government of Yukon — and I quote: “…to prohibit any fracking in the Na Cho Nyäk Dun traditional territory.”
A youth councillor submitted a petition to the committee, urging the Government of Yukon to ban hydraulic fracturing in Yukon. Their opposition is based on harm to traditional ways of life, including fishing, hunting and harvesting; threats to water, land and air resources; and few and short-lived jobs and economic benefits.
The people who attended in Mayo also pointed out the really obvious fact that the committee travelled to Mayo to hear from the citizens of Mayo and to hear from the Na Cho Nyäk Dun government — among others — about the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing and what the public had to say. That hearing was held on the same date that the Peel River watershed land use plan was being challenged in Yukon court in Whitehorse. The majority of the leadership and many of the elders and citizens of Na Cho Nyäk Dun travelled to Whitehorse and couldn’t be at the public hearings, but they did make their voices known and they did make their opposition known.
The Carcross-Tagish First Nation made a submission to the committee as well, opposing hydraulic fracturing, and they noted that aboriginal drumming and a folk protest song enlivened the public against fracking and that Carcross-Tagish First Nation leadership, elders, members and staff made 29 witness statements. The witness statements from Carcross-Tagish First Nation reflected an indigenous perspective, respectful of the sacred obligations that Carcross-Tagish First Nation carries for Mother Earth, the lands, waters, air, animals, birds — all the resources — and the next generations yet to come. Climate change was also a theme, with a call for renewable and green technologies in place of hydraulic fracturing.
I spoke at the beginning about the CYFN resolution and opposition. The CYFN member nations are Carcross-Tagish First Nation, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, the First Nation of Na Cho Nyäk Dun, Kluane First Nation, Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, Selkirk First Nation, Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, Teslin Tlingit Council and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. Of the First Nation responses, the Gwich’in Tribal Council referenced the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation resolution of August 2013 to oppose hydraulic fracturing, and the Gwich’in Tribal Council itself resolved at its 2014 Annual General Assembly to declare the Gwich’in settlement region to be a frack-free zone. The Gwich’in Tribal Council called on the governments of Yukon and Northwest Territories to prohibit any fracking in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
Yukon First Nation leaders, citizens and elders have told us the land of their traditional territories is their home, their food basket, their medicine chest, their spiritual place. It has inherent value and should not be destroyed. Yukon First Nations ceded most of their land in exchange for agreements that provide for meaningful involvement in government decision making on the use of the land and the resources in the future. That was a vision of public governments and First Nation governments working together — working in collaboration, consulting with each other and listening to each other — that are entrenched in law. We need to respect that.
I am condemning the Yukon government’s decision to proceed with hydraulic fracturing in the Liard Basin, because they are not respecting those agreements. Those agreements provide for regional land use plans, and we see what happened with the government refusing to accept the final recommended regional land use plan for the Peel River watershed. Government came out with their own plan and forced the First Nations to go to court to uphold the honour of the Crown and to uphold the provisions of the treaties that are in those land claims agreements.
The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act is another creature of the land claims agreements that deserves to be respected, not flouted.
The Yukon government has said they need the support of the affected First Nations. The Yukon government used to be obligated by law to seek the consent of Yukon First Nations in the Yukon Oil and Gas Act. In the 1990s, the territorial government wanted to pursue a transfer from Ottawa of control over Yukon’s oil and gas resources. At the time, such a transfer required the formal support of affected Yukon First Nations. In 1996, the Yukon NDP government of the day and Yukon First Nation representatives entered into negotiations and produced a bilateral agreement that set the terms for the devolution of this legislation.
The legislation was devolved and the Yukon government of the time recognized that affected First Nations had aboriginal rights, titles and interests in the Yukon that were affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In recognition of this, the legislation had a section that Government of Yukon would not issue any new oil and gas dispositions in First Nation traditional territories that had not signed a final agreement without their consent.
Section 13 allowed the Kaska to have a say on the development on their land. In 2012, the Premier, in one of his first moves in office, unilaterally deleted the consent provisions contained in section 13 from the Yukon Oil and Gas Act. The Liard Basin is situated firmly in Kaska territory. It seems that this government was planning as early as 2012 to go ahead with fracking in the Liard Basin and was already laying the groundwork.
The government’s actions around the Yukon Oil and Gas Act are very similar to their actions on Bill S 6 and YESAA. Both stem from agreements negotiated in good faith at a time when relationships actually meant something to a more honest and open Yukon government, and now they both have the reputation of having been breached by this Premier.
Just before the Yukon Oil and Gas Act was amended, the Kaska sent a scathing letter to the Premier. In it, they outlined their opposition to the unilateral changes that took away their consent. They told the Yukon government what the changes would mean for Yukon industry and relations, and they said — and I quote: “… what will you have achieved? You will have incurred our deep enmity and otherwise irrevocably damaged a relationship that is supposed to be trust-like, not adversarial. You’ll have destroyed any doubts that may exist regarding your government’s profound lack of respect for recognized title and rights, and you will have erected completely unnecessary but potential insurmountable barriers to any new oil and gas development in our traditional territory, for so long as your government remains in office.”
It seems that history has a way of repeating itself, doesn’t it, Mr. Speaker?
What the Kaska told the Yukon government about the Yukon Oil and Gas Act amendments is the exact same thing that Yukon First Nations are telling this government about the amendments to YESAA contained in Bill S 6. I refer to the four controversial amendments that were added on after the consultation period and the five-year review of the YESAA. I do acknowledge that there are a number of amendments that were agreed to by First Nations.
I would also like to note that the Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Gale and Lands Director Lana Lowe spoke about the negative consequences of hydraulic fracturing on the B.C. side of the Liard Basin. Fort Nelson First Nation said that they did not receive adequate economic compensation and benefits for their citizens. Fort Nelson First Nation reported that crime, violence and social disruption had increased with the industry coming to their territory. They spoke about harmful effects on wildlife and habitat.
Mr. Speaker, before I close, I want to go to the Government of Yukon’s response to the Final Report of the Select Committee Regarding the Risks and Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing that was issued on April 9. They assert that their work is underway to implement actions so that they can proceed with hydraulic fracturing. They want to address the recommendations while they are going ahead with encouraging development. They say they will meet their legal obligations to consult with affected First Nations, but I go back to the fact that the committee report said that, of the recommendations that we could agree to, those needed to be addressed before the government considered hydraulic fracturing.
The government has said that it will require the involvement and support of affected First Nations on any future oil and gas development within their traditional territories that requires hydraulic fracturing. I’ve spoken this afternoon of the position of Yukon First Nations, including the Kaska, whose territory includes the Liard Basin. I think the government needs to be very cautious about proceeding, because they do not have support from First Nations.
In its response on water, the government is going to collect additional baseline groundwater and surface water data. Here I want to note that we don’t have very good data as of yet and we don’t have long-term data. The Yukon government proposal — or not proposal — their decision is that Water Resources, Oil and Gas Resources and the Yukon Geological Survey are collaborating with the University of Calgary on a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, NSERC, project to develop baseline monitoring techniques to assess potential impacts on groundwater and surface water of oil and gas extraction.
They said that they will seek expert advice to confirm our baseline information is adequate in comparison to other jurisdictions. Well, Mr. Speaker, how low are they going to set the bar?
In other jurisdictions, we have certainly seen the damage that has been caused. They are not saying that they will confirm a long-term set of baseline data. They say they are going to have it be adequate in comparison to other jurisdictions. I want to exceed what other jurisdictions have done — that is what I would like to see happening in the Yukon. When the government says they will seek expert advice to confirm their baseline data, I am deeply concerned that their view of who to consult for expert advice will be the industry, which is promoting the development of oil and gas and the use of hydraulic fracturing, and the regulators, who assert — in complete contradiction to the science — that they have robust regulatory regimes in place to protect the environment. They don’t exist — those robust regulations.
The frack fluid impact on groundwater is unknown. The impact on permafrost is unknown. Throughout the Yukon, there are regions of both discontinuous permafrost and other types of permafrost in the northern regions. That is something that there is not enough scientific evidence on to understand whether hydraulic fracturing could be safe.
I want to refer to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the rights of indigenous peoples for free, prior and informed consent before developments take place. That is an obligation that the Yukon government should pay attention to. Canada is signatory to that UN declaration.
There is also the issue of non-compliance by industry and I want to make a brief mention of what is occurring in Alberta, where Jessica Ernst, who has spent 30 years working in the oil and gas industry as an environmental specialist, documented what she calls non-compliance by Encana Corporation, one of her former clients, with Alberta environmental regulations — a whistle-blower, in other words. Her belief is that Encana knowingly injected chemicals into the drinking water in Rosebud, Alberta, about 100 kilometres northeast of Calgary. When the select committee made its fact-finding trip to Alberta, we heard from residents about their health concerns.
Ms. Ernst has filed a lawsuit for what she alleges was a violation of her freedom-of-expression rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because the Alberta regulators sent a cease-and-desist letter to her that accused her of making criminal threats against the regulator, for speaking out about what she believed to be harmful activities.
Now the Supreme Court of Canada is being asked to rule whether the province’s energy regulator is allowed to violate a citizen’s fundamental freedoms. We are talking about huge implications on not just the environment, but on the rights of citizens.
There is a group in Cochrane, Alberta, that has organized and written letters to all levels of government. They have joined provincial groups to educate people about hydraulic fracturing. They have met with industry representatives, but their concern is that it may be too late. Their concern is also that nobody knows what long-term damage fracking might do.
In referring at the outset to this government’s decision — before they even struck the Select Committee Regarding the Risks and Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing — to proceed with supporting the oil and gas industry, I mentioned a number of actions that it has taken that show their purpose.
A recently leaked memo from Energy, Mines and Resources discussed the need to enter into an oil and gas agreement with the Liard First Nation. There was also a leaked PowerPoint presentation to caucus about hydraulic fracturing. There is much more that I could have said about hydraulic fracturing. I could have read into the record quotes from the presenters to the select committee.
I want to encourage people who are interested to go to the Yukon Legislative Assembly website for themselves and read the transcripts of the many experts’ presentations at the committee’s public proceedings.
I also want to encourage people again to listen to the testimony of the public at the hearings that were held in the 12 communities in the Yukon. There were over 700 people who presented to the committee, and the committee also received 435 written submissions. More than 95 percent of those submissions were opposed to hydraulic fracturing.
When all is said and done, the Yukon Party government has not respected the findings and recommendations of the select committee. It appears they never intended to. We do agree that public dialogue needs to continue. This government may never again regain the trust of the Yukon public. They have destroyed it through too many actions: the Peel River watershed final recommended land use plan being rejected; the unilateral changes to YESAA that they have proposed; and now the action to support oil and gas development and hydraulic fracturing in the Liard Basin.
The government cannot assert that, because it is only two percent of the land, that really it is just a small thing. It is not really anything anybody needs to worry about. The science does not bear that out.
When I spoke with the Chief of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation this week, his message was that they stand behind the resolution to oppose hydraulic fracturing, not just in Eagle Plains, but throughout Yukon. When I spoke with elders in the community, they said, take notice, Yukon government; we are not happy about your decision to proceed with hydraulic fracturing in the Liard Basin. We do not support it and Yukoners and First Nations will stand up against it.
We do urge the Yukon government to listen to Yukon First Nations. As I mentioned, a group of Kaska members have formed the Kaska Society for the Protection of our Lands and Resources to fight against the government’s plans to frack. We urge the Yukon government to refrain from its pro-fracking agenda in the absence of widespread public support — or social licence, as it’s called. We urge the Yukon government to refrain from its pro-fracking agenda in view of the scientific evidence and we urge the Yukon government to refrain from fracking in Yukon because of the opposition of First Nations.
It is possible to have a strong and diverse local economy that values the environment. As Yukon First Nations and community members have told us, a subsistence economy is legitimate. The wealth of the territory includes its people and its environment. We can have a strong and diverse local economy that includes a knowledge-based economy, technology, education, arts and culture, trapping, forestry and small business development. But Mr. Speaker, hydraulic fracturing does not belong in our territory. It does not advance the economy and it’s the wrong thing to do.
I commend this motion to the House and I urge members to support it.