A sump that was found leaking by workers of the Inuvialuit Energy Security Project at the TUK M-18 well site has been sealed before it contaminated any surface water. Photo courtesy of Inuvialuit Energy Security Project
A sump that was found leaking by workers of the Inuvialuit Energy Security Project at the TUK M-18 well site has been sealed before it contaminated any surface water. Photo courtesy of Inuvialuit Energy Security Project

Diesel, propane and other natural gas products could soon be sourced from the Beaufort Delta as the Inuvialuit Energy Security Project edges closer to reality.

Representatives of the project were in Inuvik Feb. 21 to update residents of the status of the project whilst they await clearance from the Canada Energy Regulator to build an access road.

“(The project is) to support what’s here today,” said primary engineer Travis Balaski. “However the future plays out will impact the life of the project.

“For now we’re super-focused on natural gas, propane and diesel for the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) and the Beaufort Delta. It has adequate demand for a long time.”

There may not be an access road, but that hasn’t stopped some important work on the site from happening. After completing a winter access trail, crews remediated a sump that was left leaking by the previous tenants of the well and patched it up so it would no longer contaminate the surrounding soil. Project senior manager Alan MacDonald noted the contaminants that did leak were potassium chloride and salt berite. The good news is the new tenants of the well were able to stop the leak and the overflow before it reached any freshwater, such as the nearby lake.

Regular environmental monitoring plans are already implemented and happening regularly. So far, the IESP have employed over 5o Inuvialuit beneficiaries and eight Gwich’in, bringing $7 million in local business to the area.

Making all this possible is the fact the well is already drilled.

“Drilling a well like M-18 is a very costly endeavour,” he said. “It would be too much, probably, for local demand. This was meant to be produced at a much larger volume.

“The other thing was the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, because it gave us access to the resource. If the ITH wasn’t there and we had only seasonal access, it would not be economical.”

But Balaski explained re-opening an already existing well is feasible and that lone well could cover much of the Beaufort Delta’s fossil fuel needs for the next half century. The big question now is what exactly the facility will manufacture when complete.

There are several options. The methane fed into the system from the well can be liquefied as well as compressed. The former would be used to offset diesel fuel burned in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, the latter can serve as a backup for propane fired systems. Propane itself is another possibility, which would be sold to Inuvik Gas. Lastly, the well will also produce the byproducts needed to make diesel and synthetic diesel fuel, which would be shipped to other communities in the ISR and Beaufort Delta to offset the fuel currently shipped North from further south.

Much of what gets produced will depend on how Northwest Territories Power Corporation opts to replace the engines in its current diesel generator at their power plants. NTPC spokesman Doug Prendergast told the Inuvik Drum the engines in Tuktoyaktuk have about 10 years of operational life left in them and Inuvik can continue to burn diesel for another 15 years before a part is needed.

Balaski estimates the project will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions related to the Beaufort Delta’s energy supply chain by up to 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year simply from reducing the volume of trucks carrying LNG and diesel up the highway. It will also provide 20 long-term positions at the plant when completed.

With approval from the CER expected some time this summer, work on re-opening the well and preparing the site for extraction and refining could begin later this year. The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation also gets a final say on each step of the project before it proceeds. Officials are hoping to have the site active by 2025.

Previously owned by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. and Suncor, the TUK M-18 well was initially dug in the 1990s, but ceased production in 2010 after water accidentally poured into the well and a preliminary reserve analysis concluded the well did not have nearly as much potential gas in it as initially estimated. The IESP officially took over ownership of the well and site on July 13, 2022.

Read the IESP’s Environmental Protection Plan here.

Eric Bowling

Your source for all things happening in the Beaufort Delta. Eric jumped at the chance to write for the Inuvik Drum after cutting his teeth in Alberta. He enjoys long walks, loud music and strong coffee....

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