CBC News: Fort Liard’s geothermal champion not deterred by poor study results

Researcher says limited study shows some rock has 'poor reservoir quality'

Fort Liard’s community office, photographed November 2023. (Luke Carroll/CBC)

The Northwest Territories Geological Survey (NTGS) says a rock formation in southwestern N.W.T. wouldn’t be good for drawing geothermal energy — but a geothermal champion in one community isn’t deterred.

Viktor Terlaky, a manager with the NTGS, presented findings from a study of two rock types found in the Nahanni formation at the Yellowknife Geosciences Forum on Thursday.

Both had previously been explored for gas, Terlaky explained, and the research team was able to look at core samples from eight wells to see how effectively water would be able to flow through the rock — a critical factor for a viable geothermal reservoir.

Geothermal energy comes naturally from heat that is both generated and stored within the earth, meaning that it’s renewable. Accessing it involves drawing hot water from underground reservoirs, which can be used for its heat or to generate electricity.

Terlaky found the “permeability” of the rock he studied wasn’t good — an indicator of “poor reservoir quality,” he said. But, he pointed out, his work was limited, and he hoped there’d be support for more research.

Acho Dene Koe Holdings, the economic development wing of the First Nation in Fort Liard, N.W.T., is doing its own exploration project and has hired a community geothermal liaison and Barkley Project Group, a company that helps First Nations get renewable energy and infrastructure projects going, to help.

“The NTGS study did not discourage and does not discourage these exploration projects and the assessment of capacity,” explained Daniel Alonso Torres, a geothermal exploration specialist with the Barkley Project Group.

Angus James Capot-Blanc Jr., Fort Liard’s community geothermal liaison, wants geothermal energy in his community to heat homes and create jobs. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Echoing Terlaky’s own point about the study being limited, Alonso-Torres said NTGS only looked at a fraction of the potential reservoirs below the community. They’re looking at at least five formations, he said.

Plans to harness geothermal potential below Fort Liard have failed before. Borealis Geopower wanted to build a geothermal energy plant there, but the project stalled roughly a decade ago because the company and the Northwest Territories Power Corporation failed to reach a power purchasing agreement.

Fort Liard’s geothermal liaison, Angus James Capot-Blanc Jr., isn’t worried that’ll happen again.

“Projects like these, you got to move on with a lot of optimism and a lot of, you know, enthusiasm,” he said. “My mindset right now is to help the people.”

Although one forum presenter said Fort Liard was the only community out of 10 in southwest N.W.T. where she believed it’d be possible to generate geothermal electricity, Capot-Blanc Jr.’s visions involve making use of geothermal heat instead.

He said it could be used to heat homes and public buildings, helping Fort Liard reduce its reliance on diesel and creating jobs. Iceland is an example of where this is being done already: about 85 percent of homes in the country are heated with geothermal energy.

Capot-Blanc Jr. said heat could be used to build a hot spring and grow tourism in the community or to heat sweat lodges as part of a local treatment centre.

“It could help the North for sure.”