When the highway from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk opens in November, it could open access to previously untapped sources of natural gas, say two energy executives.
"[The highway to Tuk] goes past a lot of known gas fields," said Paul Miller, vice-president of business development with Sonoma Resources.
"It just opens up new territory, it's new infrastructure … you do some near-highway searching for natural gas pools that can hopefully be harnessed."
Miller and Colin Nikiforuk, president of CNRG Energy Inc., were in Inuvik for the Arctic Energy and Emerging Technologies Conference & Tradeshow this week.
They gave a joint presentation where both agreed the technology to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the region could be set up within the next three to five years, depending on what's discovered when the highway opens.
An LNG plant would bring with it a clean, affordable energy resource that could help take Tuktoyaktuk and other Northern communities off diesel, and would create a new industry in the region, they said.
"The spin-offs from that, and the decreased energy costs, which you will experience up here, will attract new ventures like mines," Miller said.
"The ripple effects are quite astonishing."
Could offset greenhouse gas emissions
The Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC) began using LNG in Inuvik in February 2014, but it's the only community in the Beaufort Delta region to do so. Inuvik began bringing LNG in by truck shortly after the community's natural gas well had to be abandoned.
Other communities, like Tuktoyaktuk, remain on diesel power. Opening up new natural gas fields along the new highway could mean diesel supply chains transformed into LNG supply chains.
"All of the on-road communities are diesel generating communities," said Nikiforuk, meaning they rely on diesel-powered generators for electricity.
"Now that the supply chain [has been] developed by the NTPC, we just want to build on that."
Miller and Nikiforuk say their companies are currently financing a new LNG plant In Alberta. By mid-2018 they say they'll be able to move LNG up to Inuvik and possibly Tuktoyaktuk.
But trucking LNG is expensive, and an LNG plant in the region would reduce trucking costs. The details of the scale — and cost — of an LNG plant in the region were not discussed.
Wally Schumann, N.W.T. minister of Infrastructure and Industry, Tourism and Investment, says LNG could produce opportunities for the region.
"With the resource sector that pulled out of here which took away a lot of the economy, particularly out of the Beaufort Delta region, we need to look into ways to exploit this resource to supply energy needs for Northerners."
Schumann pointed to LNG's lower pollutant emissions than diesel fuel.
"We are going to look into one of these sources as a potential to offset greenhouse gas emissions."