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Imperial CEO Says Regulatory Delays Jeopardizing Mackenzie Pipe

Imperial Oil Ltd. CEO Tim Hearn said Thursday that a 2010 targeted startup for the proposed C$7 billion ($5.6 billion) Mackenzie Valley pipeline may be in jeopardy because of continuing regulatory delays.

Imperial and its co-sponsors want to construct a 758-mile natural gas pipeline to transport up to 1.9 Bcf/d to Canadian and U.S. markets. The pipe would extend from the Mackenzie River delta region into the province of Alberta to an interconnection with TransCanada's Alberta system. The project also will include a 298-mile pipeline to transport gas liquids from the delta to a point of interconnection with the Enbridge Pipelines system at Norman Wells, NWT.

The pipeline sponsors filed a 6,500-page application with officials last October to work toward an April 27 deadline with the National Energy Board (NEB). In March, however, the board extended the written filing deadline to July 15 and said it would announce at a later date the times and locations for public hearings. (see NGI, March 28).

Since the initial filing, Hearn said the group has received more than 3,000 questions totaling 20,000 pages about the project, with most of the requests from the NEB.

"My concern primarily is keeping it on schedule," Hearn said at the company's annual meeting. "I think we have been losing some time in the regulatory process." He added that Imperial had been working with the government to improve the "discipline" of the review process.

"Clearly we want to answer all the legitimate questions and all the required questions, but we are trying to clear out some of the inefficiencies and unrequired bureaucracy," Hearn said. The CEO said that the group will have to "work hard" to obtain agreements, and said the next few months "will be a critical stage for us to see whether we can effectively move it along to the next stage and see if we have really got a viable project."

Still to be resolved by the pipeline sponsors is a challenge by the Deh Cho Indian nation in the Northwest Territories, which wants land claims resolved by Ottawa before allowing the line to cross its lands.

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