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O&G Prospectors in Yukon Territory

O&G Prospectors in Yukon Territory

Canada's Yukon Territory aims to start a new Klondike rush - this time for natural gas, and oil too if there is any, in Canada's vast northwestern corner next to Alaska.

The government in Whitehorse has issued an open invitation to producers to go prospecting in all but virgin terrain.

Yukon Economic Development Minister Trevor Harding, describing the action as "an exciting step" and "historic day" for the Canadian north, called on the industry to stake drilling claims on two frontier regions. Titled Peel Plateau and Eagle Plain, the targets include a total area approaching 11,500 square miles between the 65th and 68th latitude parallels just to the northeast of the scene of the fabled Klondike gold rush.

Harding gave producers until June 15 to "nominate" parcels they would like to bid for in an auction to follow (territorial authorities urge all to check the action at www.economicdevelopment.gov.yk.ca). A minimum bid of $1 million has been established. But instead of cash, the Yukon government will seek payment-in-kind in the form of work commitments. In an interview, Harding and Yukon Oil and Gas Resources Branch director Brian Love indicated the new rush will be much easier on the participants than the celebrated endurance test in the Klondike nearly a century ago. This time around, there is all-weather access at least to stepping-off points into the prospecting frontiers, via the Dempster Highway between Whitehorse and Inuvik, chief town on the gas-rich Mackenzie Delta in the Northwest Territories. The invitation is the first time such prospects have been thrown open anywhere in the Yukon in about 20 years. The action follows 1998 agreements transferring jurisdiction over natural resources to territorial authorities from the federal government in Ottawa, and between leaders in Whitehorse and previously resisting native communities.

The arrangements have included setting aside environmentally-protected areas in collaboration with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, as well as with native and conservationist interests.

Although only 71 wells have ever been drilled in the 186,610-square-mile Yukon Territory, the results have long tantalized geologists and the more adventurous side of the industry. There are educated guesses that the region harbors oil. But, like the Northwest Territories, the Yukon is believed to be more gas-prone. Speculative projections - generated by a variety of companies, consultants, the Geological Survey of Canada and the National Energy Board - have rated the recoverable gas reserves suggested by exploration so far at up to 16.8 Tcf.

The Yukon officials acknowledged the exploration areas are more than 600 miles from the most northerly arms of the Canadian gas pipeline grid in northwestern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia. But the territorial government said it hopes to see industry movement into the Yukon within the next three to five years. Harding said there have been "quite a few" nibbles."

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