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Imperial axes downtown well

John Curran
Northern News Services

Norman Wells (Nov 20/06) - Imperial Oil has abandoned a longtime fixture in Norman Wells.

The company called in a crew from Shehtah Nabors last month to relegate to the pages of history well A-45X, located near the footbridge down the street from the town office.

All the activity attracted attention from the younger set, which Jack Fraser, Imperial's operations superintendent, said led to a field trip for the kindergarten through to Grade 6 classes at the Mackenzie Mountain school.

"We had them put the rig in a safe state and brought the kids down in groups," he said.

The sessions gave the company a chance to reinforce the safety concerns around venturing into an industrial area without proper supervision.

"We also explained the process of pulling everything out of the ground," he said. "It helped to satisfy their curiosity."

The end of A-45X is just the latest result of declining reserves around Norman Wells - where production from the field has been in decline for some years now.

Recently elected Mayor Peter Guther said dealing with Norman Wells' natural gas shortage is his top priority moving forward.

The town uses gas it gets from Imperial's operations for heating and power generation needs. But recent growth, coupled with the limit of 17,000 cubic metres of gas per day, have caused problems, he said.

"In January, February and March sometimes we now need 22,000 to 23,000 cubic metres per day."

While the NWT Power Corp. has agreed to fire up its diesel generators to fill the gap this year, Guther said he sees a couple of other solutions moving into the future.

"We have to come up with alternative energy solutions that are a little greener," he said. "In the short-term we need to convert some of the biggest users to propane, perhaps some of the town facilities or the airport, for example."

Long-term the town needs to look at ideas like wind power for its electricity needs.

As well, it must secure a steady supply of gas either from the Delta with the construction of the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline or, failing that, via a smaller feeder line from the Colville Hills area, he said.

"Having that gas available would likely extend the life of Imperial's oil field by about 25 years," he said, adding that's beyond current estimates of roughly 10 to 20 years.

Imperial needs natural gas to get its oil out of the ground, he said.

When you inject natural gas into an oil well, it forces both to flow back out - the oil and the gas - just like the carbonated soda in the can.

"Then they separate it and the town gets the gas it needs," he said.

Without a larger supply of natural gas, he estimated Imperial would need to walk away from Norman Wells and its oil field with at most 60 per cent of the reserves exhausted.