Village wants fuel cell

Posted: Monday, August 14, 2000

FAIRBANKS -- A steady stream of natural gas will soon start flowing to Nuiqsut.

Now the North Slope village wants to use a fuel cell to transform the gas into electricity. As a natural gas pipeline from the Alpine field nears completion, the village is looking to the federal government to help pay for the costly technology.

BP Exploration (Alaska) has committed $2 million for the cell and Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, is trying to obtain a similar amount.

Having natural gas provided to our village -- that's been long awaited, James Talaak, a Nuiqsut city employee, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. We are surrounded by oil field gas development, so it's nice to get a piece of the pie as far as fuel production goes. It would certainly cut down on the cost of living in the village.

The lights from oil development first showed up on the horizon surrounding Nuiqsut in the late 1970s, when drills tapped the Kuparuk field 20 miles to the east. Then in the mid-1990s, work began eight miles to the north at the Alpine field, which should begin producing oil in September. Finally, last winter, villagers watched lights to the west on rigs drilling in the newly leased National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

When major oil companies started looking westward in recent years, the Nuiqsut village corporation's land became the ticket to greater participation in the encircling oil development. The Alpine oil and gas field lies partially beneath the corporation's entitlement from the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The village corporation was successful in getting industry to commit that a volume of the gas would be held for the village of Nuiqsut, said Richard Glenn, energy management director for the North Slope Borough.

Getting the gas to the village and building a distribution system there, though, wasn't part of the deal, he said.

So the borough raised $5 million by selling bonds. And the city of Nuiqsut applied for and obtained $6 million in federal money from a pot offered to communities to help deal with the effects of government oil leasing. Between them, they are building a pipeline.

The line rides on the same pilings as the oil pipeline that leads southward out of Alpine. But where Alpine's oil will turn east toward the Prudhoe-Kuparuk complex, the gas will turn west toward Nuiqsut. Just a few miles of buried line remain to be completed, Glenn said.

Nuiqsut's village corporation, Kuukpik, will receive 500,000 cubic feet of gas a day. The corporation will turn the gas over to a non-profit cooperative created and owned by Nuiqsut residents. Some of the gas will replace the heating oil being used in homes.

If the money comes through from Congress and elsewhere, though, the natural gas could also feed the fuel cell, replacing some of the power generated by the standard burn-and-turn diesel engines.

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