Unusable jet fuel sent to 3 N.W.T. communities on Arctic coast

There's a shortage of aviation fuel in Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok and Sachs Harbour after the batch that was sent up on barges was not up to specifications. 

During a recent routine lab test, an "off-specification condition" was identified in the fuel, according to Greg Hanna, a spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure.

This particular condition isn't uncommon and "is a jet fuel quality measurement that is typically pertinent only at the refinery level and not at point of sale," he wrote in an email. 

The off-spec fuel has not been distributed, and a third-party firm will be sent to each community to filter and treat it, he said. 

In the meantime, there are reserves in the community that can be used in case of emergencies.  

"We have ourselves enough good fuel that we've stored just for emergencies and medevacs," said Paulatuk mayor Ray Ruben. "We have enough for approximately 12 fill-ups."

This is the second year in a row there's been a problem with fuel shipped north. Last year, barge service to three Arctic communities was cancelled and bad fuel was a big reason.

"These are red flags," said Ruben. "That you're having some incidents one year after the next."

Although each community has an emergency supply of aviation fuel, there is not enough for regularly scheduled flights.

Aklak Air is the main airline that heads into these three communities.

It is storing enough fuel in the planes to return to Inuvik. That means the weight limits are lower and the airline is sending extra planes when it can. 

"We understand that everyone still needs to travel and receive their groceries so when we can, we've been adding an additional aircraft," said Ken Dalton, general manager for Aklak Air.

Mackenzie Scott/CBC

"Instead of sending one airplane we've been sending two planes, just so we can carry the demand … so there's the extra cost of having to send the extra airplanes."

As well, Dalton said one airplane can't store enough fuel to do its normal route from Inuvik to Ulukhaktok, Sachs Harbour and back without refuelling along the way. Instead, the airline has been sending separate flights from Inuvik to those two communities.

Dalton said although more flights bring an added cost, the airline has not been charging more or increasing rates because "we don't think that would be fair to the customers."

The territorial government expects the aviation fuel to be cleaned and ready to go in about two weeks.