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Public hearing for geothermal project
Borealis GeoPower hopes to drill wells by fall

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 3, 2012

A proposed geothermal project was given a thorough review in Fort Liard last month.

On April 24, the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board held a public hearing on Borealis GeoPower's application for a Type A land use permit and Type A water licence. Borealis is looking to construct a geothermal plant that will create enough electricity to meet all of the community's needs.

During the hearing, Tim Thompson, Borealis' chief executive officer, explained how the company plans to drill a well approximately 4.2 km down to reach a brine, a water with high levels of dissolved solids and salts, that will be a temperature of approximately 170 C by the time it reaches the surface.

The heat will be used to power a binary electricity-generating turbine. The partially-cooled brine would then be re-injected into a second well drilled to a shallower depth of between 750 metres to 1.5 km.

"It's really the best form of renewable energy," Thompson said about geothermal, according to the transcripts of the hearing.

Borealis hopes to drill, test and complete the wells, which will be lined, by this fall and construct the plant in June or July of 2013.

During the hearing, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR), Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) and Environment Canada addressed the board with concerns they have about the project and recommendations of conditions to be included in the licences.

ENR's main concern, as presented by Todd Paget, an industrial specialist in oil and gas with the department, is that proper plans are in place to deal with a potential hydrogen sulfide, H2S, release.

It's very unlikely that hydrogen sulfide would be released from the wells, but given the proximity of the project to the community of Fort Liard, it's important appropriate standards are in place, Paget said.

"We're just making sure that the Ts are crossed and the Is are dotted in the public interest," he said.

Paget said technical advice provided to the board from the National Energy Board, as well as any other specialist, should be enough to ensure a complete and approved drilling program that includes a hydrogen sulfide mitigation strategy is in place before drilling begins.

AANDC raised concerns regarding water. There's a possibility that brine from either of the two wells could enter into the potable groundwater. To make sure this doesn't happen, AANDC recommends that the potable water zone be monitored throughout the life of the project, said Nathan Richea, a member of the regulatory and science advisory section of the water resources division of AANDC.

AANDC also make a number of other recommendations. AANDC supports this project and its goal of providing a long-term source of green energy to Fort Liard, but there are a number of uncertainties especially around extracting and injecting highly salty ground water, Richea said.

For its part, Environment Canada called for updates to Borealis' waste management, spill contingency and emergency response plans.

Speaking on May 1, Thompson said Borealis feels the hearing went well. The hearing was more about what conditions are applicable for the permit versus whether a permit should be granted, he said.

"That's the right kind of discussion we want," said Thompson.

Of the approximately 75 recommendations, Borealis agrees with about 68 of them. Most of the recommendations consisted of making sure Borealis is aware of existing regulations and how they apply to this project. They will be easy to follow, he said.

Given the speed at which the regulatory process has been handling their applications, Thompson said Borealis expects to drill the wells by the fall. The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board will make a decision on the land use permit and the water licence will be sent to the minister of AANDC for his decision

Acho Dene Koe First Nation stands to benefit if the project goes forward.

Borealis has signed a formal joint venture agreement with Nahendeh Enterprises, one of the band's economic arms. Through the agreement, the band has been given 51 per cent control of the joint venture as well as 51 per cent of any value generated.

"The band is pretty excited about it," Thompson said.

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