Mining advocates in the Northwest Territories say the environmental assessment process is to blame for Husky Oil’s decision to withdraw its application to drill for the sand used in hydraulic fracturing along the North Arm of Great Slave Lake.
Husky backed out of the review process just days before Aboriginal groups were scheduled to make their concerns with the project known at public hearings on June 18 in Behchoko and June 23-24 in Yellowknife.
In a brief letter to the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board last Tuesday, the company said it would be withdrawing its application to drill for silica near Whitebeach Point, 50 km west of Yellowknife, but gave no reasons why.
Tom Hoefer, executive director of the NWT/Nunavut Chamber of Mines, said the review process is likely at the root of their decision.
“We have been warning governments against referring small projects to environmental assessment for some time, even before the Husky sand project,” Hoefer said. “It is unusual and unnecessary from an environmental perspective for jurisdictions to take these small projects to such a detailed review for approval. What it does is to force small projects into more costly and complex regulatory processes – costly for not just the proponent, but also for regulators, government and communities.”
Husky’s proposal, known as the Chedabucto Mineral Exploration Project, sought a five-year land use permit to drill approximately 200 holes for silica, a fine, quartz-rich sand used as a proppant in the hydraulic fracturing process.
The application was made last December and referred to environmental assessment by the review board in February after Aboriginal groups made it clear the project would be the cause of public concern.
At the time, Husky representatives indicated their next moves were uncertain and would be dependent on the process.
Last week’s decision comes just weeks after the company also confirmed it would not be pursuing further shale oil exploration in the Sahtu region this winter.
Hoefer said the lack of certainty for exploration companies is hurting the economy overall, since the odds of finding a resource extraction project are one in a thousand.
“I like to say, mineral exploration is like bingo. The odds are against you to win,” he said. “That is why smart bingo players play many, many cards at once to increase the odds of winning. That is also why we need to have many, many exploration projects underway if we are to increase the odds of one of them becoming a mine. But chasing away investment before it even has a chance to find anything, like the simple Husky sand project, will hurt us in the long run.”
First Nations opposed project
Both the Tlicho Government and Yellowknives Dene, whose traditional territory includes the area of Whitebeach Point, had submitted letters of concern to the review board rejecting Husky’s proposal.
In the Tlicho’s planned hearing presentation, the government said it had not been consulted prior to Husky being issued the mineral claims for the Whitebeach Point area in December 2011, and had asked for the area to be designated a protected area in its land use plan based on its ecological and cultural importance.
“The Tlicho Government recommends the rejection of this mineral exploration activity, given that there is not broad based acceptance of exploration or mining in the area,” the presentation concluded.
Similarly, the Yellowknives Dene said the area is ecologically sensitive and has both present and historical significance as a harvesting area.
“This Whitebeach Point and area is of significance to the Yellowknives Dene and they have ancestors buried in the area and the traditional use of hunting, trapping and fishing rights will not be given up for that area,” states comments from the Yellowknives Dene written to the board in May.
The NWT chapter of the Council of Canadians called Husky’s decision a victory for the area that has historical, cultural, environmental and recreational value.
“This is no place for a mine, particularly a mine that, aside from being damaging in its own right, would support the environmentally destructive practice of horizontal hydraulic fracturing,” said co-chair Peter Redvers. “It’s time that industry and public governments recognize that the continued exploitation and use of non-renewable energy sources is not socially, environmentally, or economically sustainable.”
Redvers said the chapter supports the Tlicho Government’s proposal of creating a protected area in the North Arm.