November 20th, 2015
Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board
Dawson Designated Office
Bag 6050 Dawson City YT
Y0B 1G0
Shelby Jordan
Project Number: 2014-0112
Eagle Plain Multi-Well Exploration
Dear Shelby,
Yukon Conservation Society (YCS) believes YESAB project 2014-0112 Eagle
Plain Multi-Well Exploration would result in serious environmental impacts that
cannot be mitigated and respectfully requests YESAB recommend that this
project not proceed.
In addition, there are several instances where potential impacts could not be
properly assessed because the proponent supplied insufficient information. This
has happened despite four separate information requests.
Schedule 3 of YESSA lays out the projects that must be referred to an Executive
Committee (ExCom) screening. It is not clear if any of these triggers are pulled
by this project, because insufficient data is supplied. There is another route to an
ExCom screening. The precedent for this was set when the Yukon Queen II,
project #2008-0070 was assessed. Document 2008-0070-147-1 lays out the
If, under Section 56(1) of the YESSA, the Designated Office cannot determine
whether the project will have significant adverse environmental or socio
economic effects, after taking into account any mitigative measures included in
the project proposal, the Designated Office can refer the project to the Executive
Committee for a screening.
A considerable portion of this submission argues that these conditions exist in
the case of project 2014-0112.
Therefore, for the reasons listed below, YCS asks that the project should be
referred to an Executive Committee of YESAB for a more complete screening.
General Concerns:
All petroleum projects need to be considered in a global context. This context
includes the reality of global warming, which is mostly driven by the use of fossil
fuels. According to the journal Nature, to avoid the worst effects of global
warming, three quarters of global undeveloped fossil fuel reserves must remain
in the ground.
The report concludes that no country’s Arctic energy resources can be
developed if global temperature increases are to be kept below 2OC.
To quote from the report: “Our results show that policy makers’ instincts to exploit
rapidly and completely their territorial fossil fuels are, in aggregate, inconsistent
with their commitments to this temperature limit. Implementation of this policy
commitment would also render unnecessary continued substantial expenditure
on fossil fuel exploration, because any new discoveries could not lead to
increased aggregate production”. Consideration of the implications of developing
fossil fuel reserves in Yukon must include the cumulative effects of doing so, and
the climate effect of carbon must be the mother of all cumulative effects. In other
words, approval of this project is not consistent with the climate goals of Yukon,
Canada and the world.
The quarter of global fossil fuels that can be used, continues the report, must be
from sources that are accessible and require lower amounts of energy to extract.
This means that “extreme petroleum” such as that from the Arctic cannot be
developed. Eagle Plain being in a remote, far northern, low infrastructure
environment, falls squarely into this category. During the course of this
assessment, leaders from around the world will gather in Paris to work out how to
keep global warming from accelerating out of control. Any recommendation other
than that this project be rejected will contribute to the worst environmental crisis
in history. YCS is aware that YESAB is currently constrained to considering local
effects on projects, despite wording in YESSA that could be interpreted
otherwise. YCS argues that, unlike project 2013-0115, this is a local project.
YCS respectfully requests that YESAB reject this project because its
effects are likely to exacerbate global warming.
Specific Concerns:
YCS is concerned that the Wildlife Management Plan submitted by NCY is
deficient in many respects. The deficiencies are listed below in detail. Our
recommendation follows.
Page 2: Mitigation is defined as “minimize disturbance of focal wildlife species”
and monitoring will “be used to assess the effectiveness of these measures”.
Herein lies the first problem. Mitigation should be viewed more broadly: it should
be viewed as a way to eliminate or, if that is not possible, to minimize and
compensate for the effects of the project on all fauna and flora. Focal species
(Moose, Caribou and Bear) is a very limiting definition and merely to minimize
disturbance is not good enough. Monitoring should similarly be broadened to
deepening the knowledge about the flora and fauna being monitored, not simply
in the context of this project’s effects. The rationale for widening the definition of
monitoring is to provide additional knowledge about the species being monitored.
A broader view of monitoring could inform the industry and its regulators about
best management practices and add to the baseline knowledge for use in
potential future projects. This benefit is mentioned in the plan objectives, yet the
content does not follow through. In other words, a monitoring program should be
designed that acts like an ecological assessment of the area as well as an
assessment of the effects of the project and any mitigation identified.
Page 4: The Porcupine Caribou Management Board (PCMB) is a comanagement body rather than an advisory board; it was constituted as part of an
international agreement around the Porcupine Caribou Herd (PCH) and predates the advisory boards set up in the Final agreements. PCMB concerns must
therefore be treated as more than mere “advice” that can be safely ignored.
Page 5: YCS is pleased that the mitigation measures are to be viewed as
adaptive; if they are shown, through the monitoring program, to be ineffective,
they will be changed. YCS is less thrilled that the monitoring program is qualitied
by the need to conserve limited company resources. This project can be seen as
a bellwether project in Yukon in general and in Eagle Plain in particular. The
proponent is owned by one of the wealthiest entities on the planet, the China
National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), in turn owned by the government of
the People’s Republic of China. This organization can certainly afford a first class
wildlife mitigation and monitoring project, and if it is interested in pursuing further
work, and in the general development of the industry, it would be well advised to
pull out all the stops and make this project a world class example of how to do it
YCS asks that the term “stakeholders in the area” be broadened to include
Yukon stakeholders generally, and specifically include the Gwitchin Tribal
Council (GTC). Interpreted narrowly, this phrase could restrict area stakeholders
to permanent residents of Eagle Plains Lodge.
The weekly summary should include general observations and have some
provision for the inclusion of traditional knowledge (TK).
YCS is concerned that YG’s Oil & Gas (O&G) manager will be the YG person
responsible for the review and comments on the wildlife monitoring program. It is
logical that someone with expertise in wildlife monitoring and mitigation (i.e. from
Environment Yukon) be assigned to this file.
Page 7: A list of sensitive habitats is provided that will be avoided to the extent
possible. Buffers will be placed around specific sites such as nests, dens etc.
according to best management practices (BMP) industry-wide or in Yukon. YCS
suggests that “whichever is the more rigorous” be added to this sentence. For
example, Yukon does not have any territorial wetland protection measures.
Wetlands cover 25-50% of the project area (Jacobsen 2007).
Page 8: Access roads should not only be gated, but, during times when caribou
are present, they should be manned. Surveys for nesting birds should be
conducted by qualified experts, as nests are cryptic, i.e. they are intended to be
hard to find.
Page 10: Riparian areas are considered to be “sensitive” (page 7) and to be
avoided to the extent possible, therefore it is a concern that there is talk of
reclamation of sensitive areas. Additionally, all disturbed areas ought to be
Page 12: Caribou mitigation: The plan needs to address the fact that caribou can
move very swiftly: they can easily be over 30km away from the project site in the
evening and all around by morning. The first level of alert needs to be when
indications (collar signals and TK) are that caribou are approaching. Action
needs to be taken when it is confirmed that caribou are at Eagle Plain.
Considering that caribou will be disturbed by the sight, sound and scent of the
operation, it is disturbing that there are no circumstances identified in the Plan
under which drilling will stop. Mitigation and monitoring measures should
incorporate the submission from the PCMB (2012-0112-133-1). According to the
submission from Vuntut Gwitchin (VG) Elder Alfred Charlie, Eagle Plain is a
traditional wintering ground for the PCH; scientific knowledge records PCH winter
presence (use or migration) about 50% of the time. The VG submission further
notes that for a period of 20 years after the construction of the Dempster
Highway, the PCH avoided the area for a distance of 30km. It is reasonable then
to suppose that a similar zone of avoidance will ensue around the drilling area.
This is a real effect and there have been no actions described by NCY that will
mitigate this effect. The PCMB proposed mitigation is to suspend operations
when the larger PCH is within 30km, when 250 caribou are within 4km, and/or
when 25 caribou are within 600m. These mitigations are reasonable, for the
mobility reason outlined above. Northern Cross Yukon’s proposed mitigation is
not adequate and ignores PCMB and TK input.
The PCMB further notes that within the life span of this project, it is likely that the
natural population cycle of the PCH will swing back to a lower number and that
more rigorous measures will be needed to offset the effects of this project. This
means that the proponent should take a more, not less, precautionary approach.
Page 14: Northern Cross Yukon (NCY) should be cautious in equating the
footprint of the project to the area of surface disturbance. As the PCMB notes,
there is a zone of avoidance associated with the project that will effectively
increase the footprint of the project.
The results of traffic monitoring should be reported more often than annually (we
suggest monthly), and that action be included if monitoring indicates traffic
outside of the proposed thresholds.
We are pleased that “other wildlife” in addition to the focal species will be
monitored. Some indication of what this means would be welcome.
Page 15: We ask that there be consistency between the words “due to” and
“related” associated with mortality; they are not equivalent.
Page 16: Please see notes above regarding recommendations from the PCMB.
YCS suggests that aerial surveys be conducted on a regular (monthly) basis; that
weekly surveys be instituted if caribou are expected; and that daily air surveys
take place, in addition to the work proposed, when caribou are known to be
within 30km.
Page 17: Replace the word “considered” with “completed” in regard to caribou
baseline studies.
Page 18: YCS suggests there be a threshold for bear den numbers in the project
area beyond which it be considered a wildlife key area.
Response to IR#4 3.2 Wildlife P.6: VG explained in their submission that trappers
allow an area to rest for several seasons to allow the natural ecology to recover
after a period of trapping and that just because no trapping is taking place, this
does not mean an area is abandoned and that it is not being actively managed
as a trapping area. Therefore, referring to “Other furbearing animals such as
wolves, wolverine, marten, lynx and beaver are also found within the project area
and in the past were harvested by trappers” is inappropriate and indicates a
cavalier attitude towards VG TK or even willful dismissal of the values of
traditional practices of the Vuntut peoples.
For clarity and for informing more sophisticated mitigations, YCS has compiled in
table format the proposed mitigations from NCY, the PCMB and the Deline
Renewable Resource Council (DRRC). The latter body commissioned a caribou
disturbance mitigation model for exploration activities in the Northwest Territories
Alert distance
Alert action
Influence zone
Level 3 action
Collar/500 caribou
within 30km
Collar within 6km
Reduce active
remove bear
fencing, reduce
2+ collars within
No blasting, no
Collars/500 caribou Collar within 60km
within 30km
Aerial surveys
Aerial surveys
inner 21km
Main Herd within
Caribou within
Cease operations Cease operations
250 caribou within
25 caribou within
Cease operations
drill moves or
Cease operations
In conclusion, the Wildlife Mitigation and Monitoring Plan is deficient and it
ignores the recommendations of the PCMB and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation
(VGFN); therefore YCS respectfully requests this project be rejected.
Further Mitigation
Dashboard cams can be useful adjuncts to formal monitoring programs.
YCS respectfully suggests that dashboard cams be installed on all NCY
The PCMB recommended mitigations are based on science and TK.
YCS respectfully suggests that the PCMB recommendations be adopted.
There are two aspects of water management that will be addressed in these
comments: water supply (quantity and quality) and wastewater disposal.
Water Quantity
In the Water Protection Plan, NCY indicates baseline surface and groundwater
data collection will have been implemented in spring 2015. This reviewer cannot
find these data in the documents supplied. If they are present and it is an
oversight of the reviewer, please accept our apologies. If they are indeed not
available then YCS respectfully requests this project be referred to an
Executive Committee of YESAB for full review until adequate information to
properly assess the impacts of this project upon water is available.
Water Quality
A water quality analysis program is outlined by NCY. Again, the results of this
program appear to be unavailable. When designing such a program, it is
important to understand why one is required. Water chemistry can tell us the
source of the water. For example, it can tell us if the water comes from melting
permafrost, from precipitation, or from ground water. The data supplied is limited
in geographic extent and is dated, in some cases back to 1965. This is relevant
because the climate has warmed significantly, and one would expect permafrost
and groundwater movements to be affected. Section 3.1, P.5 of the fall 2015 IR
#4 response mentions the Camp Well as “Occasionally exceeding CCME-PAL
standards for fluoride, iron, copper and uranium”. Several concerns arise from
this statement. One is that the variation indicates the possibility of ground water
movement, something the proponent has dismissed at several junctures. Another
is that the elevated levels of uranium indicate the need for a Naturally Occurring
Radioactive Material (NORM) management plan.
There is inadequate information supplied to properly assess the impacts of this
project on water quality.
YCS respectfully requests that water quality data, and their interpretation,
be made available to an Executive Committee of YESAB for full review.
Wastewater Disposal
The Produced Water Plan contemplates the use of injection wells yet provides no
details whatsoever about where these wells will be located, nor about how they
will be permitted. The plan provides no details whatsoever about any alternatives
to injection should injection prove impractical. In light of these glaring
deficiencies, YCS respectfully requests this project be referred to the
Executive Committee of YESAB for a full review. This review should take into
account the relevant Yukon Water Board guidelines for oil and gas operations.
Waste Disposal
There are two aspects of waste management that will be addressed in these
comments: the Mix Bury Cover (MBC) Sump and Radioactivity.
NCY commits to following Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) 50 protocols for MBC
sumps, which includes sampling the dry mix. However the conditions for the
2004 Devon sump, immediately adjacent, included water sampling in the sump.
Further information can be found in “Integrated Environmental Assessment and
Licensing/Permitting Eagle Plains Drilling Program 2004” Appendix X:
Environmental Protection Plan: X5, penultimate bullet: “fluids in the sump will be
sampled regularly for analysis of hydrocarbons, sulphides and dissolved metals”.
YCS respectfully requests that monitoring of the MBC sump includes water
The sump design includes installation of a one-metre thick clay lining. The
proposal does not include a source for this clay.
Sumps in the NWT have failed once permafrost in and around the sump thaws 1.
Permafrost thaw is expected in the project area, consistent with global warming
projections. Therefore it is important that sump design incorporate the likelihood
of permafrost thaw. The design supplied, on the contrary, appears to rely upon
permafrost aggradation for sump stability. It must also be noted that AER 50, the
standard for the proposed sump, was developed for non-permafrost conditions
and therefore does not consider the implications of thawing permafrost.
An additional, related concern is the possibility of Naturally Occurring Radioactive
Materials (NORM), which can be Technologically Enhanced during the
production of oil and gas (TENORM). In the case of Eagle Plain, NORM
concerns arise in two main ways.
The first NORM issue is the drill cuttings. The target shale formation is likely
marine-derived2); such formations typically concentrate NORM from the seawater
in which they formed3 As an illustration of the pervasive presence of radioactivity
in shale, in some plays, drillers locate candidate formations through the use of
down-hole gamma ray detectors4. It is possible for NORM from drill cuttings to
reach the environment from leaching and weathering once disposed of in sumps.
If any of the initial ten wells proposed in this project find petroleum prospects, it is
proposed that a second well be drilled close by in order to better characterize the
resource. This second well might drill horizontally through the oil-bearing
formation, expected to be a bed of marine-derived shale. This will effectively
raise the proportion of shale in the drill cuttings from about one third to as much
as two thirds. This raises the quantity and concentration of radionuclides in the
drill cuttings.
The second NORM issue is the possible entrainment of radionuclides in the
flowback water. This has never been assessed in Yukon, likely because the high
concentration of dissolved solids in flowback water makes it difficult to measure.
To measure radionuclides, the water has to be filtered a certain way to separate
and concentrate them. Because of the possibility of NORM or TENORM
associated with the wells of this project, it would be prudent to institute a
radionuclides monitoring program. Such a program is not currently proposed by
There is always some NORM present: this is the background level, the baseline.
In New York where a study of NORM associated with oil and gas was done in
(“International Association of Oil and Gas Producers Report” No. 412, September
2008: Guidelines for the management of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material
(NORM) in the oil & gas industry).
1996, a level of twice background levels was defined as significant NORM
According to Health Canada, Canada has a mishmash of provincial regulations
and federal guidelines. The following is an attempt at a synopsis of the relevant
portions of the guidelines.
Average background levels for Canadians are around 2 millisieverts per annum
(mSv/a) (range 1.2-3.2 depending on geographical location). Health Canada
recommends that additional doses should be limited to 1mSv/a for general public
and those not exposed as a result of their jobs – such as nuclear plant workers or
uranium miners. However, if O&G workers were to be considered
“Occupationally exposed”, the allowable additional exposure is 20mSv/a 6.
Schedule 3, 36.(b) and 38 (b) of YESSA lays out the relevant triggers for projects
involving the disposal of radioactive substances to advance to an Executive
Committee Screening. In the absence of any data on the amount of alpha, beta
and gamma radiation detected in drill cuttings from his site, it is impossible to say
if these thresholds are exceeded.
Despite the likelihood of NORM and TENORM entering the environment, this
proposal does not include any significant measures to assess or mitigate
Therefore neither YCS nor the Assessor can properly assess the significance of
this effect.
Therefore YCS respectfully requests that this project be referred to an
Executive Committee of YESAB for a full assessment of potential
radioactive issues related to drill cuttings and produced water.
There are numerous references to permafrost through this proposal. Some of
these references are inconsistent with each other. For example, in response to
IR# 4 3.3 Vegetation P. 6, either it is inaccurate to characterize “some lower
terraces and alluvial systems” as permafrost free, or the statements elsewhere in
the proposal that permafrost is continuous and provides an impermeable barrier
between the surface and the underground are false. Both cannot be true. The
observation that there are gaps in the permafrost is consistent with the concern
about the camp well, and supports concerns that permafrost is not continuous
and that there are subterranean connections and groundwater flow that need to
be understood before the aquifers are perforated.
Another concern is that permafrost in a warming climate is less permanent – it is
warming along with the air. It is possible that by 2050, average air temperatures
in the project area will be above freezing which will lead to permafrost
degradation. This assertion is buttressed by the temperature profile in Chance J
19, supplied, that has the classic “S” shaped profile of warming permafrost. It
must be further noted that this is the only evidence that permafrost has been
measured, and that this data is from 1998, so it is reasonable to expect that
further warming of permafrost has taken place since then.
In the response to IR# 4 3.3 Vegetation, in the discussion of forest fires are
additional indicators of permafrost instability. Contrary to NCY’s response,
Alaskan Birch is not the first tree species to recolonize an area subsequent to a
forest fire. The attention of this reviewer was drawn to this statement because
anyone with more than a superficial knowledge of forest fire ecology in Yukon
knows that, when present, Aspen are the first tree species to recolonize a burn.
Upon a check of the reference, I found nothing in the reference to support the
statement. Aspen were not listed as a tree species present in undisturbed forest.
The study7 looked at regeneration one-year post burn, too soon for regeneration
of tree species. I.e. the reference does not support the assertion.
Given the reliance on permafrost as a confining layer throughout this proposal,
YCS respectfully requests that a qualified expert design a permafrost
measuring and monitoring program.
Cumulative Effects
This exploration project is proposed to take place within the North Yukon Land
Use Plan (NYLUP). As described it conforms to the parameters around footprint
established in the NYLUP. However, a complete assessment of the likely effects
of follow-on projects indicates the project will not conform to the NYLUP.
The Pembina Institute has calculated the footprint of oil field development in the
adjacent 10,000 km2 Peel Plateau at 12,000 km of linear disturbance and 190
km2 of surface disturbance.
The NYLUP allows, in zone IV areas, 1km/km2 linear and 1% surface
disturbance. The Pembina estimates exceed the plan parameters at 1.2 km/km2
and 1.9%. Therefore YCS respectfully requests that this proposal be
rejected, as its cumulative effects are likely to exceed NYLUP parameters.
Inconsistencies and Inaccuracies
NCY has submitted a very large proposal and there have been up to four
iterations of some of the information supplied, so it is to be expected some typos
and inconsistencies would creep in. However, some of these errors make it
difficult or impossible to properly review the proposal. See the example above of
a reference not supporting an assertion.
7 Jacobsen C., EDI Environmental Dynamics Inc. 2007. Regeneration on Linear Developments Subject to Wildfires in a Zone of Continuous Permafrost.
Mining and Petroleum Environment Research Group (MPERG) Report 2007-1
Because of these issues, it is difficult if not impossible to properly assess the
impacts of this project on several Valued Socio-Economic Components (VSECs)
and the project should therefore be referred to an Executive Committee of
YESAB. YCS respectfully suggests a qualified expert be assigned to edit,
compile, correct and synthesize this proposal so it can be assessable.
Summary of Recommendations:
This project has effects that cannot be mitigated and should be rejected on the
grounds that:
It is not consistent with greenhouse gas reduction targets
It will have significant effects on wildlife and the proposed mitigations are
Its cumulative effects will likely exceed the allowable footprint in the
This project is inadequately characterized in some key areas and should be
referred to an Executive Committee of YESAB for review on the grounds that:
Baseline data on water quantity are not available
Baseline data on water quality are not available
Produced water injection wells are not identified or licensed
There is no meaningful consideration of radioactivity
Additional recommendations:
Water sampling in the MBC sumps be a term and condition should the
project eventually proceed.
A permafrost measuring and monitoring program be a term and condition
should the project eventually proceed.
A qualified expert is assigned to rewrite the proposal.
YCS is grateful for the opportunity to comment on this proposal.
Sebastian Jones
Energy Analyst
Yukon Conservation Society

November 20th, 2015 Yukon Environmental and Socio