Clarke Lake geothermal drilling to start in June

The Fort Nelson First Nation says federal funding has been secured for the Clarke Lake geothermal project, with the first well planned to be drilled in June 2021.

Site preparation work is underway, the First Nation said in an update Feb. 12.

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“This 100% FNFN-owned project will reinvigorate our regional economy and create economic opportunities in clean energy," it said. "A variety of employment and training opportunities will be available for Fort Nelson First Nation members, and some are available immediately.”

The project, which would be wholly owned by the Fort Nelson and Saulteau First Nations, plans to tap the hot water from the depleted Clarke Lake natural gas reservoir.

The Clarke Lake geothermal generation plant would produce seven megawatts (MW) of electricity in its initial phase – enough electricity to power about 5,000 homes. The project could be expanded to 15 MW.

Site location options. - Geoscience BC/Associatied Engineering

As a renewable energy source, geothermal power has one big advantage over wind and solar: It isn’t intermittent. Hot water drawn from deep, hot aquifers can produce steam to drive turbines around the clock.

The problem in developing it in B.C. has been the cost of exploration and development. Developers can spends millions drilling test wells, only to discover the conditions are not right for generating geothermal power.

Geothermal plants are also generally more expensive to build than wind or solar, although the power generated is more valuable, since it is firm and reliable. (Because wind and solar often produce power when it’s not needed, it sometimes has to be sold at a steep discount, making it less valuable than firm, dispatchable power.)

The Clarke Lake gas reservoir is B.C.’s oldest natural gas producing area, so its geology is well known. That eliminates a lot of the exploratory work that would otherwise need to be done. Also, a pre-feasibility study of the basin’s geothermal potential was produced last year by Geoscience BC.

The aquifer that would be tapped is 2,000 to 2,500 metres down and the water is about 120 degrees Celsius. That’s not hot enough in itself to produce the steam needed to drive turbines, so the project will use a binary generator that uses a secondary fluid with a lower boiling point to produce heat and steam.

The Fort Nelson and Saulteau First Nations will be getting help on the project from the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, which helps First Nations involved in major projects with financial and technical expertise. 

The estimated $100 million in project is planned to be operating by the end of 2024.

— with files from Nelson Bennett/Business in Vancouver

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at

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