N.W.T. town of Norman Wells heat supply cut due to power outage at Imperial Oil

NORMAN WELLS, N.W.T. – A town in Northwest Territories has declared a state of emergency after its heating supply was cut.

Imperial Oil (TSX:IMO) says a power outage early Monday morning at its facilities resulted in a controlled shutdown of its operations.

The company supplies natural gas to Norman Wells for residential heating.

Imperial spokesman Pius Rolheiser said partial natural gas service was restored later Monday.

“The key thing from our perspective is partial service has been restored, people have heat in their homes and our priority now is to return our operations to normal and then to make sure we conduct an investigation to fully understand what led to that power outage,” Rolheiser said from Calgary.

The MLA for the area, Norman Yakeleya, says it was -49C with the windchill on Monday and 850 residents — about 85 per cent of the townspeople — depend on natural gas to heat their homes. Others use diesel or wood stoves, he added.

He says the town’s school was not affected and was being used as a centre for residents to go to if their heat was not on.

But the town’s health centre didn’t have heat, and patients had to be moved, Yakeleya said.

He said the townspeople worked together to help those without heat.

“There were groups of people going house to house draining water lines in people’s homes so they don’t freeze up, so the house doesn’t get further damage from not having heat.”

Yakeleya said the territorial government was working with residents and businesses to keep everyone informed on where to go should their homes get too cold.

Had the heat not been restored, Yakeleya said there was talk of evacuating people to Inuvik and Yellowknife.

“It really shows how critical (it is) for us to have a reliable source of energy for our small isolated northern communities,” Yakeleya said.

He also said while Norman Wells has backup electrical generation, the equipment is old. It’s the same in other communities, he added.

“The Northern Power Territorial Commission has some old plants that we need to upgrade, so hopefully this gives us a good indication as to how to upgrade some of our infrastructure in our small northern communities.”

— By Mary Jo Laforest in Edmonton