LNG needs to stay local to best service Beaufort

by Eric Bowling
June 25, 2020

Originally published on NNSL Media

This week we cover a plan by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation to activate the long-dormant TUK-18 natural gas well and use it to produce Liquefied Natural Gas as a replacement for diesel, which could significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions for the area.

In partnership with Ferus NGF, a company with offices in both Houston, Texas and Calgary, Alta., the project is presented as a means to bring more and better paying jobs to the region through training opportunities to both operate the well and the plant, as well as by trucking the LNG to customers —Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk to start.

In the jobs-versus-environment debate, jobs obviously won this battle. While I imagine permafrost presents some technical challenges for engineers, the fact Inuvik’s utilidor system seems to be able to operate in a mostly okay state — in-spite of standing on pilings 30-years past their expiry date — tells me a pipeline would also be a feasible way to move LNG around the region at a further reduction of emissions. Especially for places lacking year-round road access like Aklavik. But less trucks means less truckers.

Whenever a project like this comes to head, there are questions that need to be asked and answered — How big of a market is the long-term plan? Certainly, if they can get as far as making LNG and shipping it to Inuvik and Tuk, Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtchic aren’t that far off.

But what’s the limit of how far this will eventually reach? Running gas throughout the Delta would be ideal, but why stop at the border? Dawson City, Old Crow, possibly even Whitehorse could be within range. But the further trucks travel, the more fossil fuels they burn. Eventually the net benefit would get cancelled out.

If LNG use in the region takes off, would there be more wells dug? Will the environmental assessment be available for public viewing? Are there dangers of contamination of ground water or permafrost from leaks?

From the Beaufort Sea all the way inland to Norman Wells there are countless tough lessons that have been learned by not asking these questions. In my birth province and I suspect many places on Earth, those who ask these questions are often looked upon with disdain for “burying progress in red tape.”

I’m only now starting to learn about the past environmental problems that have resulted from overenthusiastic mining up here, but I can tell you in Alberta there are farms where water can literally be lit on fire because of natural gas wells that weren’t dug properly, so it pays to do things right the first time.

Given that this project is intended to benefit the people who live here and will continue to live here for generations, I’m confident the IRC is taking the potential pitfalls of developing natural gas in the region seriously.

Case in point, during the presentation to Town Council June 15, it was mentioned the access road would have to cross one of two streams, both of which assessments found the risk is negligible.

One thing is certain — this should remain an energy security focused project and not a “give me another boom” scheme. The global gas market is so over-saturated right now it’s debatable how much profit could be made selling it to foreign markets for the amount of effort it takes to gain access.

Let resources serve those who live above them.