Eagle Plains could offer energy fix

The solution to Yukon’s energy pinch could be sitting beneath Eagle Plains. There, some six trillion cubic feet of natural gas lies waiting to be sucked to the surface. As fuel, natural gas is both cheap and clean compared to the dirty diesel that we truck into the territory each year...

The solution to Yukon’s energy pinch could be sitting beneath Eagle Plains.

There, some six trillion cubic feet of natural gas lies waiting to be sucked to the surface. As fuel, natural gas is both cheap and clean compared to the dirty diesel that we truck into the territory each year to cover our quickly-growing energy deficit.

Until recently, the big impediment to tapping this gas was that it’s stranded on the Dempster Highway, far away from potential customers Outside. But Eagle Plains suddenly doesn’t seem so remote, now that the Yukon Energy Corporation and mining companies are clambering for more electricity.

The Vuntut Development Corporation, in partnership with other northern First Nations, sees this all as an opportunity. Last week, it received more than $300,000 from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency to prepare a feasibility study on delivering Eagle Plains gas to market.

The study, to be completed this autumn, will consider two schemes.

Both depend on chilling the gas to minus 160 degrees Celsius so it condenses to liquid and takes up a small fraction of its original volume. This liquified natural gas, or LNG, could be trucked to mines or generation facilities connected to Yukon’s power grid.

One plan would see LNG facilities built at Eagle Plains. Another would see a 500-kilometre pipeline built out to Stewart Crossing. From there, gas would be fed to a generator connected to the Yukon’s power grid and to an LNG plant to supply mines.

Mining companies are already looking to LNG as a potential power source in the Yukon. Western Copper Corporation, which owns the massive Casino copper deposit, envisions a mine supplied by trucks hauling LNG.

The company currently expects this fuel to be trucked up from British Columbia or from the Skagway port. But a local supply of gas could likely provide fuel for cheaper.

Refitting Yukon’s diesel generators to run off natural gas would be “a win-win all the way across the board,” said Ron Daub, executive director of the Vuntut Development Corporation.

“Gas is much cleaner than diesel. And you’re reducing the trucking within the territory. All our trucks would burn natural gas, of course.”

Natural gas could provide anywhere between 40 to 100 megawatts of power to Yukon’s energy grid, said Daub. Currently, Yukon’s total generating capacity is 124 megawatts, and demand is expected to soar over the next five years.

In Alaska, LNG is trucked from Cook Inlet to Fairbanks, where the fuel is stored in large vessels until it’s needed. Then it’s heated, turned back into gas and fed into pipes that power homes and businesses.

Alaska has also supplied Japan with LNG for more than 40 years. But that’s coming to an end.

Last month, ConocoPhillips announced it would mothball its liquified natural gas plant on the Kenai Peninsula, due to falling gas volumes and its inability to secure new contracts in Asia.

Because LNG facilities are “off the shelf technology,” Daub envisions being able to put the infrastructure in place quickly. The biggest bottleneck he sees is in proving up Eagle Plains’ gas fields.

Northern Cross, a small, privately-held Calgary company, has pledged to conduct $21 million in exploration work in Eagle Plains over the next decade.

Most of the world’s LNG facilities are big, expensive projects designed to feed massive ocean-going vessels. An LNG plant in the Yukon would be much smaller — probably akin to a micro-LNG facility in Tasmania that opened last month. It cost $150 million.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com.