Residents in Norman Wells, N.W.T., may not lose their local natural gas supply this weekend, thanks to at least one backup fuel tank that could keep the gas flowing for at least five more days.


Norman Wells, N.W.T., which has a population of roughly 800, is located about 700 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife. ((CBC))

The remote town of about 800, which relies on natural gas produced from Imperial Oil's nearby oil fields, has been on edge since the company announced it may have to halt production if Plains Midstream Canada's Rainbow pipeline, which leaked 4.5 million litres of crude oil near Peace River, Alta., does not resume operations soon.

While the Rainbow pipeline awaits regulatory approval in Alberta to reopen, Imperial Oil has said it is running out of storage space for the oil it has produced in Norman Wells.

The company was expected to announce on Friday if it would have to stop production at the Norman Wells oil fields.

But Mayor Dudley Johnson told CBC News on Thursday that there is at least one extra oil tank that has been certified to store oil in the community.

That means Imperial Oil can continue production at the local oil fields and residents can still have access to natural gas, at least for now.

"Imperial did get approval for one of their tanks. They are presently pumping crude into that tank [and] they won't know really until seven hours later if that's going to work fine," Johnson said.

"If that goes well, that gives us five more days. If the other tank is approved, that will give us another five. So we're hopeful."

Looking at alternatives

The Town of Norman Wells is also looking into alternative energy sources in the meantime, Johnson said.

The town is waiting to get a gas aerator that would allow for propane to be pumped into homes through natural gas lines.

Should oil and gas production need to be halted, the aerator would help supply Norman Wells with propane energy for about a few weeks, before the town would need to fly in more propane.

About 175 homes and numerous businesses in Norman Wells use natural gas — a byproduct of oil production — for heat, hot water and cooking purposes.

"We probably wouldn't be able to keep the restaurant open if it got too bad, if the gas got completely shut down," said Larry Wallace, owner of the Rayuka Inn.

"Our stoves are natural gas, the heating is natural gas, the hot water's [heated by] natural gas, dryers are natural gas. So yeah, we've relied on natural gas ever since we've been open."