Emergency Propane Mercy Mission For Isolated Town

A propane distribution plant is loaded onto a C 130 Hercules late last week for emergency transportation to Norman Wells. The remote Canadian town is scheduled to lose natural gas supply after an oil spill. (image: edmontonjournal.com)

A remote Canadian town whose natural gas supply is about to be cut off after an oil spill is being shipped emergency propane equipment to avert a disaster.

Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories is in a state of emergency following the Plains Midstream oil spill in Northern Alberta. The disaster spewed 28,000 barrels of oil into a waterway last month – shutting down parts of the 770km pipeline – and now threatens natural gas supply to the town.

With its gas supply scheduled to be shut off and freezing temperatures still forecast, 860 commercial and residential properties are reportedly running out of energy for heating, the Calgary Beacon reported. ATCO Energy Solutions shipped a team of seven staff and a propane distribution plant to the town late last week to set up an emergency energy supply.

Mayor Dudley Johnson said the town only had enough natural gas to last a few days, the Edmonton Journal reported. Three-quarters of the town relies on natural gas for heating and cooking – a situation made worse by recent freezing conditions.

ATCO responded by shipping equipment to the town that creates a propane-air mixture mimicking natural gas that can power the town until the network supply is restored. The Calgary-based utility airlifted the equipment and personnel to Norman Wells on a C 130 Hercules. A similar operation helped the township last summer.

ATCO vice-president Miriam Mitchell-Banks said it was critical to provide immediate assistance to the town and its residents.

“You can’t leave a town not knowing whether it’s going to have heat when it’s still freezing out,” she told the Calgary Herald. “Should the natural gas diminish, (Norman Wells) will seamlessly be turned on to our system.”

However, Norman Wells must source its own supply of propane to power the emergency plant. Johnson said the town currently had a 60,000-litre reserve – enough to last about 15 days. Once the reserves ran out it would have to source more propane at additional cost.

The ATCO propane unit must be reassembled and hooked up to the hamlet’s distribution system, town manager Ian Fremantle said.

“The weather hasn’t really played ball, it’s snowing now and there’s another two or three inches on the ground,” Fremantle said. “But there’ll be a sigh of relief once the other unit is set up because then it doesn’t matter what happens to the natural gas, we can switch to the propane mix.”

Darin Barter, a spokesperson for the Energy Resources Conservation Board — which is monitoring the situation — said full operation of the pipeline would only resume once it was deemed “safe”. There was no current timeline for the resumption of gas and oil services.