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New attempt at geothermal could be coming to Fort Liard

A Tu Deh-Kah geothermal well in winter in Fort Nelson. Photo: Tu Deh-Kah Geothermal
A Tu Deh-Kah geothermal well in winter in Fort Nelson. Photo: Tu Deh-Kah Geothermal

The Fort Liard-based Acho Dene Koe First Nation is partnering with a Nanaimo-based company to explore a potential geothermal energy project.

The company, Barkley Project Group, is also behind a geothermal project in Fort Nelson, Fort Liard’s near neighbour in northern BC, which is on track to become the first geothermal plant owned by a First Nation in Canada.

AJ Capot-Blanc, Fort Liard’s geothermal community liaison, says the first step will be seeing if the community is on board.

“I’ve had quite a bit of questions and feedback already,” said Capot-Blanc. “Some people want to know where the energy would come from, since they’re so used to diesel and gas.”

Geothermal power taps into naturally occurring heat at the Earth’s core by drilling deep underground. It’s considered a renewable, sustainable and plentiful source of energy.



So far, Capot-Blanc says residents have a lot of excitement and interest in the project, and especially in the idea of a geothermal energy plant that’s owned and operated by their own leadership.

“Geothermal energy has been used for electricity around the world for over a hundred years,” said Capot-Blanc, who noted that First Nations have used hot springs, another source of geothermal heat, for thousands of years.

“Geothermal energy is 24/7. It has the benefit of not needing the sun to shine, the wind to blow or the river to flow, all the while providing heat and electricity with zero carbon emissions.”

So what’s the catch?



“It’s pretty expensive,” said Capot-Blanc. “And the drilling can cause some surface instability.”

Nevertheless, geothermal energy has long been considered a source of energy in the southwest Northwest Territories.

The territory’s Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment has said there is geothermal potential across the Dehcho region that includes Fort Liard. In the Dehcho, high geothermal heat has also been found at shallow depths in Fort Simpson, Jean Marie River, Fort Providence and, in the neighbouring South Slave region, Hay River.

Shawn Day, a geothermal project coordinator at Barkley, said many of these discoveries happened by accident.

“When you drill an oil and gas well, you measure temperature at the same time,” Day said.

As companies drilled near Fort Liard, he continued, at depths of “two and a half or three kilometres, they were seeing really high temperatures: 100C, 150C.”

A geothermal power plant in Fort Liard has been proposed before.



The last attempt fell through in 2013 after Borealis GeoPower, a Calgary-based corporation working with the Acho Dene Koe First Nation on the project, failed to reach a power purchasing agreement with the NWT Power Corporation.

That agreement was a condition for the project to receive federal funding. 

The NWT Power Corporation’s Hay River headquarters. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

But galvanized by the success of the geothermal project in Fort Nelson, the First Nation connected with Barkley last year.

For now, the new project is still in the research phase.

ADKFN is working with the GNWT as well as Barkley to measure geothermal reservoir quality in the region.

According to Doug Prendergast, communications manager for the NWT Power Corporation, the NWT Geological Survey has undertaken field and lab work in Fort Liard to more accurately assess the area’s energy potential. Interpretation of the results from that work is under way.

Barkley is also offering its expertise in geology and engineering.

“To have a geothermal resource, you need three ingredients. You need the heat, you need pathways for the fluid to flow, and you need water,” said Day.



“There are no guarantees when you’re doing this kind of exploration. But we are seeing indicators, even very early on, of high heat availability in the subsurface.

“The next thing we need is to find if there’s pathways for that fluid to flow, and if there’s enough water in the subsurface.”

An aerial image of Fort Liard
An aerial image of Fort Liard.

The final hurdle will be the same as the 2013 attempt: to reach a deal with the NWT Power Corporation. Any renewable energy project in the area would rely on infrastructure owned by NTPC and potentially cut into its profits.

And while NTPC ultimately quashed the first attempt, Prendergast stressed that what happened in 2013 does not mean 2023’s outcome is a foregone conclusion.

“Although a previous proposal to install a geothermal system in the Fort Liard area over 10 years ago did not advance to construction, NTPC was not and is not opposed to geothermal technology,” he said.

“There were several financial and technical issues associated with the proposed project that could not be overcome,” Prendergast said of the doomed 2013 plan.

If a fresh proposal comes forward, he said, “NTPC would consider it through the same lens it uses for all projects – does it bring benefit to our customers? There is significant geothermal energy potential in the southern NWT, but much of it is very deep, untested, and potentially very expensive to develop and sustain.”

Day believes the timing of the latest attempt could be fortuitous.



There is increasing momentum at the federal level around decarbonizing the energy grid and prioritizing projects involving Indigenous ownership, he said, and that could mean better funding options.

Capot-Blanc and ADKFN leaders hope that if the right results come back, and they get the support they need to overcome the project’s initial costs, the community can benefit from a lower cost of living and permanent job opportunities at a future plant.

They’re also considering other projects that would be possible with cheap and plentiful energy, like a system of heated greenhouses to increase northern food sovereignty.

“I’m thinking of the years ahead and my community members. I’m thinking about my kids, and my kids’ kids,” said Capot-Blanc.

“I don’t want them to have to deal with the rising cost of diesel and propane and inflation.”