Question re: Select committee on hydraulic fracturing – April 4, 2013

Mr. Silver: I sent an open letter to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources this week regarding the establishment of a select committee to examine the issue of fracking. One of the issues I raised was how the creation of the committee will affect any private sector applicant that comes forward looking for permission to frack in Yukon. It is my view that the creation of the committee places a de facto moratorium on the practice of fracking in the territory. It would be inexcusable for the government to permit the activity until the committee has completed its work and Yukoners have been heard from; otherwise the work from the committee is irrelevant.

The company that owns the Kotaneelee gas well in southeast Yukon, in a presentation to stakeholders, said it plans to drill, complete and frack shale gas in 2013-14. The overlap of the work of the committee is obvious.

What is the government’s position on this question? Will it permit fracking before the committee has concluded its work and recommendations have been implemented?

Hon. Mr. Cathers: I would refer the Member for Klondike to what was stated in Motion No. 309, brought forward to this Assembly by me and passed in this House last fall. The whole purpose of this committee is to analyze the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing if it were to be allowed in the Yukon and to make recommendations to the Legislative Assembly, to the government, with regard to that matter.

To the member’s specific question: Of course, the timelines that he put forward indicating that a company had presented to its stakeholders — well, they certainly will not be in a position that that would not preclude the work of this committee. We will stay committed to what we said in Motion No. 309 and the key question at hand is what the committee will do in the recommendations.

I would hope that the Member for Klondike will participate in this committee sincerely and genuinely, as members have in the past, in an attempt to bring, where possible, a multipartisan approach and attempt, if possible, to come to a consensus on proper steps that meet the Yukon interest in its recommendations.

Mr. Silver: In order for the work of the committee to be meaningful, it should not be undercut by a government decision to permit fracking at the Kotaneelee well in southeast Yukon or anywhere else, for that matter. The company with a controlling interest in that well said they want to begin fracking in 2013-14. It’s not realistic to believe the committee being struck this spring will have concluded its work in this time frame. There are warning bells to consider when discussing fracking, and there are also enormous economic benefits when it comes to shale gas development.

I’ve heard from people on both sides of this issue. Based upon statements in Hansard to date, the Independent member and I may be the only members on that committee without a predetermined outlook. The minister has no doubt met with the new owners of the Kotaneelee well and discussed their plans. Did the minister tell them an application to frack would be considered, or did he tell them there was a moratorium in place until the committee has heard from Yukoners?

Hon. Mr. Dixon: Part of the reason for the determination of the proposal to create a select committee is to determine the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing in the territory and to consider how the implementation would go for Motion No. 309, which was discussed in this House last fall. To be clear and to reiterate that motion, the goal of the government is to facilitate and inform public dialogue about the oil and gas industry, including risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing — also known as “fracking” — before any regulatory approvals or permitting allows the use of this activity in Yukon.

I don’t think that could be any clearer. We think that the recommendations that will come forward from the select committee will be beneficial for government to review the regulations and policies around the oil and gas industry and the specific ones aimed at this particular practice. We’re not going to predetermine the outcomes of that select committee, and we hope that the members of that committee will deliberate in good faith and determine outcomes that are in the best interests of Yukon citizens.

Mr. Silver: I thank the minister for a direct answer. It seems that what I’m hearing is that the government is not planning to consider applications for fracking while simultaneously creating a committee. That is wonderful news.

In my letter to the minister, I said the decision to create the committee is an admission by the Yukon government that current regulatory mechanisms are not sufficient to address the issue of fracking. This contradicts the long-held view of the Yukon Party government that no public discussion or regulatory changes were needed. A properly planned oil and gas industry would have seen this discussion take place several years ago. The department’s intention, however, to finally do the right thing and engage the public in this debate is very encouraging. In order to demonstrate that there is a free hand, the terms of reference for the committee must be set by the members of the committee and not by the government.

Will the government allow this to happen, or will the terms of reference be dictated by the government?

Hon. Mr. Dixon: Thanks to the member opposite for his kind words about the responses.

In regard to his question at the tail-end of his dialogue, he asked about the terms of reference. Of course, the motion will set, to some degree, the terms of reference for the committee, and we’ve committed in this House that we would share that motion with the NDP, the Liberals and the Independent member before tabling in the Legislature, and we intend to do that. I believe we’re still working on the drafting of the motion, and we’ll be in a position to share it with the respective proposed members of that committee shortly. As soon as we have some material to share with them, we will. I look forward to getting their input on the content of that motion, and we’ll do our best to incorporate it. I look forward to the meeting to determine the work of this committee and getting on with the good business.