‘Allowing fracking is a Pandora’s Box’
That was the advice offered to Yukoners from the chief of the Fort Nelson First Nation as the territory continues its debate about hydraulic fracturing.
Chief Sharleen Gale and Lana Lowe, the director of the B.C. First Nation’s department of lands and resources, presented before the legislature’s Select Committee Regarding the Risks and Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing on Saturday afternoon.
Of the eight presentations the committee heard Friday and Saturday, the Fort Nelson First Nation was the only one to receive applause from the public gallery – which earned the onlookers an admonishment from the chair of the committee. Decorum dictates that the public gallery is to remain silent.
Chief Gale noted more than once throughout the presentation that the First Nation still hasn’t said “yes” to natural gas development in its territory, even as it is currently underway.
The First Nation is trying to work with the B.C. government to ensure the community has a central role in resource and land management in its territory, but it appears a constant battle.
Lowe highlighted several of the community’s main concerns, which include impacts on air quality, water, wildlife, and vegetation.
She shared the sad tale of a black bear that was recently run-over and killed in its den by a mulcher clearing a seismic line.
The First Nation, she noted, has a strong relationship with the company, which has agreed to take measures, including using infrared lights, to ensure nothing like that happens again.
But Fort Nelson wants the B.C. government to step up as well.
The community has more than a handful of concerns about the B.C. government’s approach to regulating the oil and gas industry.
Lowe said the government’s response when the First Nation raised concerns about rare and medicinal plants that were located in an area where a gas plant was planned, was to get the company to move the plants. The community found the decision unacceptable.
The First Nation is also disappointed that B.C. doesn’t have a policy in place to limit the number of gas processing plants allowed in the region, nor a plan for the trees that are coming down as industry adapts the landscape for its own use.
Lowe noted that they are working with Gilles Wendling, a hydrologist who presented to the select committee Friday morning, to develop a better understanding of the impacts on water and how best to manage them.
As a result of those efforts, the community is pressuring the government not to issue water licences on shallow water bodies, she noted.
The B.C. government’s regulatory system is ineffective and only manages the industry on an incremental basis, Lowe said, noting there’s little to no attention paid to cumulative effects.
The increased development in the area has had real impacts on the First Nation’s citizens ability to lead a traditional lifestyle as well, Gale noted.
There’s less access to wildlife, people can no longer drink from rivers and streams, and they’ve noticed reduced stream flow along some traditional transportation routes, which has impacted travel by boat, she said.
The two First Nation’s representatives said the B.C. government has not respected their rights as First Nations and has not adequately consulted them nor included them in the regulatory process, and they fear it will only get worse in their territory.
They expect 3,000 more wells could be drilled over the next 30 years.
The best way to manage the impacts is to work with government, they said, but ultimately their presentation concluded with a sombre warning.
“Allowing fracking is a Pandora’s Box which will have severe and far-reaching consequences.”
Notes from all eight presentations are available on the committee’s website at http://www.legassembly.gov.yk.ca/rbhf.