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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has raised slightly the annual dollar limit for projects that natural gas pipelines with blanket construction certificates can proceed with on their own this year without having to obtain agency clearance first. In a final rule published in the Federal Register, FERC raised the automatic project cost limit to $10.5 million for 2010 from $10.4 million in 2009. This means that gas pipes holding blanket construction certificates can build, acquire, operate and/or replace facilities up to that dollar limit without having to request permission from the Commission. The agency also boosted to $29.9 million the prior-notice cost limit in 2010 for gas pipelines with blanket construction certificates. The prior-notice cost limit last year was $29.6 million. Projects at or below $29.9 million (but above $10.5 million) will be required to notify FERC in advance of any work during 2010, but they will not be subject to the certificate process. The Commission set $5.7 million as the annual limit that holders of blanket construction certificates can spend on underground storage testing and development without having to notify the agency. This is up from $5.6 million in 2009. The final rule took effect Feb. 24.

ENSTOR is holding a nonbinding open season through March 12 for firm storage service at its Houston Hub Storage Project under development 30 miles northeast of Houston. Working capacity of up to 16 Bcf will provide deliverability of up to 1 Bcf/d and interconnect with as many as five pipelines, the company said. The project is expected to begin service in June 2013, subject to approval of amendments to the project's original certificate. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued ENSTOR its certificate in April 2008 to construct and operate a high-deliverability, multi-cycle salt dome storage facility on the North Dayton Dome in the Texas Gulf Coast. The facility is expected to have an ultimate working capacity of 30 Bcf and pipeline interconnects with Natural Gas Pipeline Company of America (400,000/d) and Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Corp. (400,000/d). Additional interconnects planned are Trunkline Gas Co., Energy Transfer-Houston Pipeline and Kinder Morgan-Texas. ENSTOR will begin accepting nonbinding bids for firm capacity beginning Monday. For information contact Kay Atchison at (281) 374-3075, or kay.atchison@enstorinc.com.

Congressional allocation last year of $5 billion for the Department of Energy's (DOE) weatherization assistance program has so far resulted in very few homes in the nation being weatherized and jobs being created, according to an interim status report by the department's inspector general (IG). Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, DOE received $5 billion to weatherize nearly 590,000 residences of low-income citizens -- a "dramatic increase" over the $450 million appropriated for the program in fiscal year 2009. DOE awarded $4.73 billion in the form of grants to all 50 states, five territories, the District of Columbia and two Native American Tribes. It was believed that the money would result in an "almost immediate creation of jobs," but that has not occurred, the IG said.

Calgary-based Suncor Energy Inc., which became Canada's largest producer following its acquisition of Petro-Canada Corp. in 2009, agreed to sell some natural gas-weighted assets in Trinidad and Tobago for $380 million to UK-based Centrica plc. Suncor has been selling some of its gas-weighted properties to keep its core focus on Canadian oilsands (see NGI, Nov. 16, 2009). The Trinidad and Tobago properties, to be sold to Centrica Resources (Armada) Ltd., currently produce 60-70 MMcfe/d net from Suncor's 17% stake in the North Coast Marine Area fields there. In addition, the agreement includes equity in three additional blocks: Block 22 (90%); and Blocks 1a and 1b (80%).

A crucial water quality permit being sought by NorthernStar Natural Gas Corp. for its proposed Bradwood Landing liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility along the Columbia River in Oregon was thrust into doubt by a Feb. 17 letter from the state director of the Environmental Quality (EQ) Department, alleging that an essential evaluation had not been properly completed by the LNG terminal backers. EQ Director Dick Petersen has suggested Bradwood withdraw and then resubmit its application to avoid a denial. Northern Star Senior Vice President Joe Desmond said the project's backers are considering whether to withdraw the application and resubmit it, or to carry on toward a May 8 deadline under the federal Clean Water Act (see NGI, Jan. 4).

Junior producer Pinnacle Gas Resources Inc., which explores for coalbed methane (CBM) across the Rocky Mountains, is going private in an all-cash transaction by an investor group led by Scotia Waterous (USA) Inc. and members of Pinnacle's management team. The investor group agreed to pay 34 cents/share for Pinnacle, or around $11 million. Once the merger is completed, the common stock of the Sheridan, WY-based company would no longer be publicly traded. Founded in 2003, Pinnacle holds CBM acreage in the Powder River Basin in northeastern Wyoming and southern Montana, as well as in the Green River Basin in southern Wyoming.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a favorable environmental review of Tennessee Gas Pipeline's proposed expansion of its system to provide customers in the Northeast with diversified supplies, including newly accessed Appalachian Basin and Marcellus Shale gas. The project calls for Tennessee to install approximately 127.4 miles of 30-inch diameter pipeline loop in seven segments in northeastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey, along with 55,058 hp of additional compression [CP09-444]. The expansion would increase Tennessee's capacity to the Northeast by approximately 350,000 Dth/d, according to the environmental assessment. Tennessee, a pipeline subsidiary of El Paso Corp., said it expects to begin construction in the second half of this year, assuming it receives a certificate from the Commission. It has targeted the expansion for operation by November 2011. The pipeline has signed a binding precedent agreement with shipper Equitable Energy LLC for all of the firm capacity to be created by the project.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced legislation that would block the Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) new requirement that companies disclose the impacts of climate change on their businesses. The legislation would seek to thwart the new requirement, which the SEC approved in January, for companies to publicly disclose the impact of climate change on their businesses, including the effects of new regulations and/or legislation they face in the United States or overseas and potential economic and physical risks. "For years the SEC missed all of the clues about Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme," Barrasso said, referring to the disgraced New York City financier. "In the aftermath of this historic failure, it's clear that the SEC should focus on its core mission of protecting American investors and maintaining fair markets. Instead, the SEC now wants to devote time and resources to climate change. This is absurd." The SEC's action would require the agency to conduct "burdensome and expensive climate analysis," he said.

Earnings associated with the completion of more than $2 billion in capital investments in its ONEOK Partners unit, which were begun in 2006, helped to drive ONEOK Inc.'s earnings 37% higher in 4Q2009, though ONEOK Partners reported a 5.3% decline in the same period, the Tulsa-based company said. The ONEOK Partners projects, announced in 2006, included the Arbuckle Pipeline, the Piceance Lateral Pipeline and the Denver-Julesburg Basin Lateral Pipeline in the company's natural gas liquids (NGL) business, and the Guardian Pipeline expansion and extension, the Grasslands natural gas processing facility and expansion of the Viking Pipeline in the natural gas business. ONEOK Partners said it has has identified another $300-500 million of growth projects it might invest in annually through 2015, depending on market needs and producer commitments, according to CEO John Gibson.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) unveiled a research report that concludes 20-30% reductions in energy consumption are possible nationally from an aggressive national energy efficiency policy. The report was a joint effort between CFA and the Virginia Citizens Consumer Council. They said the report has significance for Virginia and more widely nationally where half of the 50 states now have some policy pushing energy efficiency measures for homes and businesses. CFA said the detailed state-by-state savings "show efficiency can create jobs, reduce energy waste and reduce the overall cost of climate and energy legislation for consumers."

Steel tubular manufacturer TMK IPSCO said it's setting up a manufacturing facility to produce threaded pipe for Marcellus Shale infrastructure. The facility will be near Youngstown, OH, which has seen its fortunes decline with the weakening of America's steel industry. "As a company, we go where our customers need us and the Brookfield, OH, facility is in direct response to the growing need for infrastructure within the Marcellus Shale and for full-service premium and API [American Petroleum Institute] threading field service and threaded accessories to be located in close proximity to our customers' well sites," said TMK IPSCO CEO Vicki Avril. The facility, which should begin operations during the second quarter, will have an annual capacity of up to 100,000 tons of threaded pipe. The Brookfield site is approximately 40 miles northwest of TMK IPSCO's steel mill in Koppel, PA.

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