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Steps toward energy solution
Existing gas well near Tuk now favoured by Town of Inuvik; public meeting scheduled

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, June 14, 2012

A second public meeting regarding the natural gas shortage and increased energy costs currently being faced in Inuvik has been tentatively scheduled for June 28, town officials say.

Currently, the short-term solution is a synthetic natural gas product that will be trucked in to the community and is estimated to cost at least double what residents are currently paying for natural gas.

Once this is in place, the Ikhil well that is currently both running the community and running out of gas will be used as a backup.

However, once that well runs dry, the synthetic natural gas system will be unable to meet the community's energy needs on its own. There has also been considerable public outcry regarding the costs of this energy source.

With this in mind, officials from the Town of Inuvik travelled to Yellowknife last week to meet with the ministers' energy committee for the territory and pitch potential medium- and long-term solutions.

There are three such solutions in the eyes of Inuvik's mayor Denny Rodgers: a new well at Parsons Lake that would involve major infrastructure installation, the re-opening of existing wells at MGM's Umiak site located roughly 90 km from current infrastructure, and the new favourite plan of tapping a well used by Devon and Suncor located just outside of Inuvik.

"All of them have merits and all of them have advantages and disadvantages," said Rodgers. "The reason that we're looking closely at the Devon one and it's important to note at this point that there have been no deals signed with any of these companies yet has an advantage in our eyes because there is a well there. It's a suspended well, so there will be no drill risk there."

The Umiak site also has existing wells, but they are not in as good of condition as the Devon site, said Rodgers. Also, to make Umiak feasible, the installation of a gas-liquids plant that would convert surplus natural gas to diesel was looked at. This kind of plant would be costly, with a price tag at least in the hundreds of millions, said Rodgers.

Even if the funding did come through for such a project, it would not be able to be installed within the next year..

"We need a fix now," said Rodgers. "Our focus is getting the most economical energy supply to Inuvik."

The town still maintains that a natural gas solution would be the best way to deal with the impending fuel shortage because 90 per cent of Inuvik residents are already using natural gas, it's much cleaner than diesel and is a complete fuel.

"There are alternatives," said Rodgers. "They're looking at pellet stoves and they're looking at solar energy and wind energy, but none of those are sustainable, cost-effective sources."

Such solutions could help offset heat and energy needs, but even in communities in the southern part of the territory like Yellowknife, where these technologies are gaining popularity, they are never used as a primary energy solution, he said.

Currently, the only guaranteed funding for a long-term natural gas solution is the $30 million pledged by the Ikhil Joint Venture.

In the past, the territorial government has said that it does not fund fuel in any communities in the NWT.

However, the mayor hopes that the recent meeting will persuade the GNWT that it is in their best interest to help Inuvik pay for a new energy system. The territorial government is currently the biggest consumer of natural gas in Inuvik, using approximately 40 per cent of all natural gas, said Rodgers.

"They have 255 housing units here, they have the power corporation here, they have the hospital here, they have government buildings here," he said. "So, they are also having their monthly energy cost go up.

"What we're saying is 'Hey, rather than pay those operating costs, why can't we use that money to invest and help us get a long-term gas solution here.'"

NWT Premier Bob McLeod serves as chair and spokesperson for the ministers' energy committee. He was unavailable to comment on the territorial government's position on these issues as of press time.

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