As early as next fall, Yukon could have laws governing geothermal energy extraction for the first time.
While it’s a nascent form of renewable energy in Canada, Energy Minister John Streicker told CBC News that the Yukon is full of resources, mostly found in the southwest and south-central regions.
“We are also working to move away from fossil fuels and change our energy economy,” Streicker said.
Geothermal energy is derived from natural heat from the earth’s core. Basically, superheated water can be harvested, with steam used to drive turbines, to generate electricity. Geothermal energy can also be used for district heating.
Using geothermal energy falls in line with the Yukon government’s plan to reduce global carbon emissions by 45 percent by the end of the decade. Much of this activity involves a shift away from the use of fossil fuels.
There is at least one geothermal project in the works in the area. A few years ago, the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation contracted with an Alberta-based company to access reservoirs below their land.
Despite legislation governing mining and oil and gas development, however, there has been no equality in the Yukon.
Streicker said about that, there are a lot of questions.
“You have to know how people can apply, you have to know what kinds of things we have to worry about, say, how the drilling is going and what kind of footing is there, especially in terms of aquifers,” he said.
Tapping into geothermal reservoirs still requires digging deep into the earth.
“It has a footprint, but it’s much, much smaller than other equipment developments,” Streicker said.
‘Careful consideration should be given’
Lewis Rifkind, a mining analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society, wrote a letter to the Yukon government as part of public consultation in creating the new law.
In it, he says there are several factors the Yukon government needs to consider, including the cumulative impacts, which could be “very serious” and associated with mining. Also, Rifkind says black shale may be mined as part of the process and may contain radioactive uranium.
Rifkind says the government should ensure adequate financial security, if the companies decide to bail out the venture and the appropriate payment is made to the First Nations.
Overall, Rifkind told CBC News that he is “very optimistic” about the prospect of a full-scale geothermal industry in the Yukon.
“Geothermal energy or heating is a good thing, don’t get us wrong,” he said. “However, this includes ground disturbances and may include underground disturbances, and this must be taken into account when generating this type of energy.
“I think there’s some serious thinking that needs to be done on this to make sure we don’t repeat some of the mistakes we’ve made in the past, with quartz, placer and oil and gas law.”
The Yukon may have reservoirs equal to the top producers
Maurice Colpron, with the Yukon Geological Survey, told CBC News that the land could be well positioned to become a major producer of geothermal energy. That has a lot to do with geography.
In the Yukon, data shows that there are hot spots running at a constant 580 C near the Denali Fault, a large fracture in the earth’s crust that runs through Burwash Landing and Haines Junction. While the temperature is too hot for electricity generation purposes, crews will compensate by not drilling more than two kilometers away — the sweet spot for temperatures that can generate electricity, though Colpron says the area could prioritize district heating.
“That’s really what we’re trying to map in the Yukon,” he said.
“The first data we have suggests that the kind of heat we’re seeing in the crust in the Yukon is comparable to what we’re seeing in Nevada and Utah.”
Colpron said those areas produce more than 30 percent of the world’s geothermal energy.
“It’s a big game.”