Tuesday, April 17, 2012

No “natural” gas? How 'bout some whale oil.

“In one Arctic town, all’s not well.
Nothing left in the tank.

Without a solution, the town won’t survive.”

So read the headlines published in the National Post dated, April 16, 2012 and written by a Jason Unrau.

As scarce as whale oil is these days to the culture of the Inuvialuit  (Inuit) of the western arctic, they’re sitting on trilliums of cubic feet of natural gas but that gas might as well be like the bowhead whale…scarce.

The Arctic town referred to above is Inuvik, long held as the administrative centre of Canada’s Western Arctic and home to the indigenous people known as the Inuvialuit. For over a century, the Inuvialuit have adapted to change to become of significance with the oil and gas industry today, thanks a lot to their 1984 land claim agreement where economic opportunities were outlined as key to survival in today’s society.

“Without a solution, the town won’t survive,” says Joe Lavoie, a 30-year resident of Inuvik and owner of the town’s Home Hardware.

Like Joe, the Inuvialuit too are looking for a solution to survive the natural gas crisis. A crisis that was quite unforeseen; after all, for over 40 years, oil and gas companies have explored and discovered huge natural gas fields with the intention of one day shipping and selling that gas via a pipeline to southern markets.

Intention though, has turned to despair and hope.

“In March, 2010, the National Energy Board gave the Mackenzie pipeline a green light, but last week, the pipeline consortium of Exxon Mobil, Shell and ConocoPhillips decided to shelve the project.”

While these large companies have lots left in the tank with their respective gas fields, it could be the little guy to the town’s rescue…MGM Energy Corp?

“Henry Sykes, president of MGM Energy Corp., a small Canadian firm with gas holdings near Inuvik, could be the town’s white knight. Like many smaller players on the periphery of the great Mackenzie pipeline game, Mr. Sykes was counting on the (pipeline) project to get his product to market.”

Like Mr. Sykes, the Inuvialuit too counted on the pipeline and did assume its construction when it developed its own Ikhil gas field and since 1999, has supplied the town with gas through its own pipeline business. Again, with the assumption the Mackenzie gas pipeline will be built.

One big problem…low gas prices and a gluten of supply with less demand.

Sounds like Inuvik and the Inuvialuit will have to adapt…again.

How ‘bout a Gas to Liquids Refinery (GTL)?

“I suppose if somebody was doing that (building a GTL refinery in Inuvik), the more customers the better and we’d be happy to supply,” said Mr. Sykes. Furthermore, “We’re not in the business of shipping gas, we’re in the business of selling gas.”

I guess the Bowhead whale may be safe after all.