Canada, U.S. Look North to Meet Energy Demands
MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, December 26, 2000 (ENS) - North
America's rising energy demands and soaring natural gas prices could send
U.S. corporations and the Canadian government north to Nunavut's trillion
dollar gas supply.
Nunavut means "our land" in Inuktitut, the language of the native
Inuit. Established as a territory in April 1999, it accounts for 1.9
million square kilometers, nearly one fifth the size of Canada.
Nunavut's rich oil and gas reserves could more than satisfy the energy
needs of its capital, Iqaluit. (Photo courtesy Nunavut
Government)"The figure we like to give is that Nunavut sits
on $1 trillion of oil and gas," said geologist Benoit Beauchamp of the
Geological Survey of Canada. "It sits on great reserves and there’s a
market which is going to get them."
The Middle East has enough oil to meet the world’s needs, but an
increasing demand for natural gas in North America is expected to send
companies north to Nunavut.
Gas consumption is forecast to rise by 33 percent in North America,
according to Beauchamp. "So they have to find this gas somewhere," he
That somewhere may well be in Nunavut’s high Arctic where there’s
already proof that large gas reserves exist.
In the 1970s and 80s, for every six wells drilled in the Sverdrup Basin
- an area marked by small islands, lying southwest of Ellesmere and Axel
Heiberg islands - one promising discovery was made. There were 19 major
gas and oil discoveries altogether in the Sverdrup Basin.
"It tells you there’s a lot more," Beauchamp said.
The Arctic Islands are thought to contain 10 per cent of Canada’s
remaining crude oil reserves and 23 per cent of its gas reserves, but
until now, the market wasn’t strong enough for companies to pay the high
cost of development.
The remoteness of Nunavut's high Arctic makes reaching its oil and gas
reserves difficult. (Photo courtesy Nunavut
Government)Beauchamp said there are few undeveloped gas
reserves left in North America. Many other gas rich regions have been
drilled "like swiss cheese," while only a relatively small pool of easily
accessible reserves remains.
Gas is increasingly in demand, because many coal burning electric
generators have converted to gas which, unlike coal, burns cleanly and
creates little pollution.
The only problem with the high Arctic gas reserves is their remoteness.
That shortcoming could be overcome by a gas pipeline from the Beaufort Sea
to Alberta. Such a connection, said Beauchamp, would make building another
If global warming continues, the expected ice free Northwest Passage
could spur even more interest in the high Arctic’s gas resources.
The first step towards opening up the Sverdrup Basin has already been
made. Canada's Department of Northern Development and Indian Affairs sent
out a call to companies interested in oil and gas exploration rights in
the basin earlier this month.
Nunavut’s minister of sustainable development, Olayuk Akesuk, heralds
the move as "the start of a new era of exploration," while Nunavut
Tunngavik’s vice-president James Eetoolook said NTI supports the
development of Nunavut’s petroleum resources.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) is legislated to work with the Canadian
government, the government of the Northwest Territories, and other
agencies on issues critical to Nunavut.
Under the Nunavut land claim agreement, Inuit are to have a role in
resource development, which will have to respect the environment and the
values of Inuit, and to offer lasting benefits.
Map of Nunavut. (Map courtesy
nunavut.com)Beauchamp would not be surprised if an American
company answers the call for more exploration.
"We still call the shots and define the environmental rules, but the
reason the U.S. wanted the North American Free Trade Agreement wasn’t for
our maple syrup, but for our very rich resources," Beauchamp said.
Beauchamp believes Canadians are losing the edge in energy self
sufficiency. He said the end of the Cold War and lack of interest in
sovereignty has caused Canadian research and development in the North to
hit "rock bottom."
That’s why the Geological Survey of Canada and its partners, which
include NTI, want to start a "Northern Basins Initiative" to study the
Norths’s immense geological potential.
Beauchamp said increased research will directly help the people of
Nunavut because rich gas and oil deposits have the potential to meet
Nunavut’s energy needs.
Published in cooperation with Nunatsiaq News: http://www.nunatsiaq.com/nunavut/index.html