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Drilling at Whitebeach Point 'insanity'
Husky Oil interested in sand for fracking operations; deadline for comment Jan. 21

Cody Punter
Northern News Services
Published Monday, January 19, 2015

The public has until Jan. 21 to weigh in on an oil company's plans to drill for sand near Whitebeach Point on the North Arm of Great Slave Lake.

According to an application submitted to the Wek'eezhii Land and Water Board on Dec. 22, Husky Oil Operation Ltd. wants to drill 200 bore holes between five and 250 metres deep to determine whether the deposits are rich enough to suit the company's plans "to produce high quality silica in the Northwest Territories."

In a draft land use permit posted online Jan. 6, the Wek'eezhii Land and Water Board set out the guidelines Husky Oil Operations Ltd. must abide by in order to go ahead.

The fine, uniform sand, or silica, commonly found at Whitebeach Point just east of Chedabucto Lake is considered ideal for adding to fracking fluids during petroleum exploration. The sand helps hold rock fractures open, thereby improving the flow of gas or oil.

In addition to the sand found on the surface, the company plans to determine whether it can extract sandstone from the bedrock.

According to Brett Wheler, executive director for the Wek'eezhii board, the public has until Jan 21 to comment on the company's application.

After the company has been given one week to review the public's submissions, the water board will make its decision on whether to approve the permit.

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley says the fact that the land and water board is considering even preliminary drilling at the site is troubling, especially given that a draft permit was completed just two weeks after receiving Husky's application.

"It's very disappointing the Wek'eezhii (Land and Water Board) would do something like that without a very thorough public consultation," he said.

Bromley, a vocal opponent of exploration in the area in the past, cautioned that Whitebeach Point is "an extremely sensitive area" and that even a small amount of disturbance as a result of drilling could cause irreversible damage.

"Even that modest level of exploratory in today's terms - those signs will be on the landscape for hundreds of years," he said. "Supporting activities for such costly pursuit of fossil fuels in this day and age, with what we know, is approaching insanity."

Husky's application states the company has consulted with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, the Tlicho Government and the North Slave Metis Alliance.

Husky noted that each aboriginal group has a long history of using Whitebeach Point and the surrounding area, and all had concerns over what the impact of commercial development might be.

After flying elders from all three aboriginal groups down to visit the site last summer, representatives from each group were given a copy of Husky's draft plans in September, with a request to forward any comments and suggested changes to the company. Despite following up with each group via e-mail, the application states the company had not received any responses by Dec. 2.

As of Friday afternoon, January 16, only the federal government, the GNWT's Department of Lands and the Sahtu Land and Water Board had made submissions to the WLWB.

While the Tlicho Government has yet to comment to the board, Tlicho Grand Chief Eddie Erasmus told News/North he was concerned about the potential impact of Husky's exploration because it is right next a protected area, as per an agreement with the GNWT, which runs right up to Whitebeach Point.

"That's why we're keeping a close eye on it," he said. "We don't want our protected area to be disturbed."

The Tlicho Government is reviewing Husky's permit, Erasmus said, emphasizing that for time being Husky is only exploring the possibility of resource extraction in the area.

"I am concerned it's just that right now who knows how much sand they will be using," he said.

Husky plans to fly in drills and maintain a small camp of approximately four people during the initial phase of exploration over a few weeks beginning in March.

Following this year's exploration, the company plans to return to the site intermittently over the next five years to take the remainder of the 200 samples. The permit also provides the possibility of a two-year extension.

A map showing a potential barge route from Whitebeach Point up to Norman Wells is included as part of the company's application. Last summer, Husky announced it was putting plans to drill and set up horizontal fracking wells in the Sahtu on hold.

Husky has staked two claims in the area surrounding Chedabucto Lake through Yellowknife-based Aurora Geosciences Ltd. Together the two claims, filed in 2011 and 2014, cover a total of 29,945 hectares.

Representatives for Husky did not return a request for comment by press time.

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