Natural gas for heating will be no more in Norman Wells after Halloween
By Darren Campbell
This fall, October 31 will represent more than the annual night when trick or treaters in Norman Wells make their rounds looking for sugar-filled goodies— it will also mark the end of the line for natural gas home heating in the community.
Imperial Oil, which owns and operates the Norman Wells oilfield that is the source of that supply, says as of that date it will no longer be able to provide natural gas to the town to heat homes. “We’ve managed to extend the deadline several times, but because of declining oil and natural gas production we’re not confident we can provide gas to the town at the maximum level for the winter of 2014-15,” says Imperial Oil spokesperson Pius Rolheiser.
Imperial currently supplies the town 17,000 cubic metres of natural gas per day to heat its homes and buildings. But come November that source will be cut off as natural gas supplies decline and Imperial must re-inject more of the gas into the oilfield to keep the reservoir’s pressure at a level where it can still produce crude oil.
The transition has not been smooth, however. Residents and local businesses have been forced to find new sources to heat their homes and buildings. Some residents resent how the issue has been handled and communicated by Imperial. That resentment didn’t ease up when, in the fall of 2013, a sudden price hike for natural gas used for heating sparked anger among some businesses that saw their heating bills more than double.
With October 31 getting closer, there are still businesses and residents who haven’t switched to an alternative heating source yet, but Norman Wells Mayor Gregor McGregor says everybody should have it done by the fall deadline. “I’m not nearly concerned as I was. I’ve had my home switched over and it was fairly painless,” McGregor says.
Norman Wells businessman Peter Guther doesn’t sound too put out after having had to switch all the buildings he has to another heating source, but the work was costly. He says he spent $1.4 million to convert everything from natural gas heating to other sources. For residents like Guther the choices are wood pellets, oil or propane.
The oil field’s natural gas is also the source of power for the town. Imperial Oil sells excess electricity that runs its central processing facility to the NWT Power Corp., which then sells it to customers in Norman Wells. But while Imperial can’t supply enough of the cleanest burning fossil fuel to heat the town’s buildings anymore, it has enough to
keep providing electricity—at least for now.
The purchase agreement between Imperial Oil and the power corp. runs out in September of 2015. But the power corp. says it is currently in discussions to renew the contract for another five years.