Story and Photo by Dan Davidson
If there was any doubt about how hydraulic fracking is viewed in the Klondike, the results of the visit of the Select Committee Regarding the Risks and Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing to Dawson should settle the matter.
Despite the awkward timing of the meeting, held between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., about 50 people turned out to talk with the committee about their concerns and 28 spoke on the record, turning thumbs down on the idea of fracking anywhere in the Yukon.
Long time Yukoner Julie Frisch compared the very notion of fracking as it is currently practiced as being a scheme worthy of a Monty Python skit.
She said no one really knows what’s going on under the ground with the water table or how the processes, which are much more intensive now than they were when the technology was first developed, affect the subsurface strata.
Like a number of others, she suggested that undertaking such actions without more knowledge was foolhardy.
Jim Taggart spoke to the toxicity of the fluids used in fracking and, along with several others, spoke of how the process actually removes fresh water from the ecosystem by contaminating it.
Kath Selkirk urged the committee to “think of the people before the corporations.”
Sebastian Jones echoed the previous concerns and raised the question of the demographic explosion that would occur in the territory if, in fact, fracking were to produce a large scale industry here. The nature of fracking is such, he said, that it necessarily takes up a lot of space and needs a lot of workers. The Northern Cross experience suggests that no more than 25% of those would be Yukoners.
Importing the work force necessary to run a large operation would, he said, “up end Yukon society, it would affect our demography violently.”
The territory has seen rapid demographic shifts in the past – during both the Gold Rush and the building of the Alaska Highway – and history shows such influxes to have been disruptive to those already living here.
Terrance Shädda called hydraulic fracturing “an attack on water” and therefore an attack on nature in general, including plants, animals and people.
Some people simply went to the microphone at the table to say that they agreed with others and opposed fracking. Some others, like town councillor and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Director of Natural Resources Darren Taylor, sat down long enough to say that the five minutes allotted for presentations was not nearly long enough for him to air his issues and he would make a written submission.
Town councillor Bill Kendrick, also with TH as Land and Resources Manager, spoke of the precautionary principle in developing public policy, but went on to list the extensive number of American states, foreign nations and even a few Canadian provinces that have imposed restrictions on or banned the practice of fracking.
”If the process isn’t in place to do it safely,” he said, “there’s value to leaving these resources in the ground.”
Rounding out the list of Dawson politicians, Mayor Wayne Potoroka spoke of water as being one of the things municipalities are responsible for. It must, he said, be protected.
“We need to have some assurances that our water will be drinkable.”
Both Joanne Bell and her daughter, Elizabeth Engel, appealed to the need to protect special areas of the world from being damaged by unnecessary industrial intrusions.
Harm to the environment was a constant theme in many of the presentations. Included in a number of comments was the idea that it seemed incongruous for the Minister of Economic Development, Currie Dixon, to also be the Minister of the Environment.
TH Deputy Chief Jay Farr was much less forgiving about any chance that the government would decide to allow the practice.
“If you don’t ban fracking you will have another court case on your hands. Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in has a resolution in place to ban fracking from our traditional territory and we’re going to stick to it and we’re not going to be budging. We’re fighting left and right, right down to the nitty gritty.”
Chief Eddie Taylor was no less adamant in his opposition to fracking, saying that he was speaking on behalf of 1000 TH citizens in the territory.
“It will lead to litigation,” he insisted, making reference to the First Nation’s participation in a court case related to the Peel Watershed. “Clearly in my mind there’s going to be a ton of litigation if you guys go there. It’s an unhealthy situation. You’re playing with our water. I think all of you sitting there know better. I hope you make the right decision and the right recommendation.”
While Northern Cross has indicated that fracking will not be part of its Eagle Plains operation, Taylor warned that any move in that direction would probably hasten the demise of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and damage the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou herd.
There were a couple of breaks during the three hour session, and some people got to speak more than once after the initial list of speakers had been completed. What was plain throughout were the consistent themes of concerns about water quality, concerns about human and animal impacts, and a complete rejection of any thought there might be of fracking, either in the Klondike or elsewhere in the territory.