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Alliance Under Extensive Environmental Scrutiny

Alliance Under Extensive Environmental Scrutiny

On the heels of a decision showing that Canadian landowners can force changes, the National Energy Board has called hearings on 38 objections to the route of Alliance Pipeline Project.

The NEB stressed that it will deal only with route details and not reopen the tangle of economic and competitive issues which delayed Alliance's in-service target date by a year until 2000 by igniting a 77-day marathon of hearings last year. There are, however, still so many unresolved landowner issues along the project's path across British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan that the NEB scheduled a string of further hearings to commence April 12 and run well into May. A travelling NEB panel will hold the sessions in the landowners' communities.

The additional hearings come as no surprise to Alliance, which filed details and posted notices of its route this winter. The project already had extensive preliminary landowner discussions and does not expect serious delays to its construction schedule. The NEB stressed that compensation for interference with established land uses is outside its jurisdiction. Landowners have the right to apply directly to the Canadian natural resources ministry for negotiation or arbitration. But the NEB has also served notice on pipelines that it is prepared to listen with an open mind to landowners and require route changes at the expense of projects. The warning came in a ruling on a leg of Maritimes &amp Northeast Pipeline in Nova Scotia, where William (Billy) MacDonald successfully appealed for an expensive modification. The board ordered M&ampNE to make changes costing up to an estimated CDN$431,000 (US$305,000) to avoid interfering with MacDonald's property and his Red Tail Nature Awareness Camp as well as habitat for wildlife such as wood turtles, moose and deer.

While the NEB said the Nova Scotia case involved "unique circumstances," it will follow the same procedure in the Alliance hearings. The method lets landowners make cases that they are special, by hearing them out one at a time.

At the same time, the momentum that drove Alliance through to approval last year, as a producer-inspired alternative to a fiercely-resisting Canadian pipeline establishment, continues to build. With gas prices holding firm north of the border, thanks to currency-exchange rates as well as expanding delivery capacity, Canadian producers continue to accelerate development. Talisman Energy, for instance, declared intentions to dedicate 75% of its Canadian budget to gas this year.

Concentration on gas drilling and development shows among pillars of the Canadian industry such as Alberta Energy Co., Poco Petroleums and PanCanadian Petroleum. Much of the new field activity is along the Alliance route in northeastern B.C. and northwestern Alberta. Aggressive competition is under way to see which Canadian publicly-traded producer can top 1 Bcf/d, and AEC expects to be 90% there this year. Talisman president Jim Buckee, announcing recent drilling successes of up to 58 MMcf/d per well in northeastern B.C. and northwestern Alberta, voiced a widespread Canadian consensus: "I am a strong believer in the long-term strength of the gas market as industry supplies are proving elusive, while the new pipelines connect Canada integrally to the largest market in the world."

Gordon Jaremko, Calgary

©Copyright 1999 Intelligence Press, Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed in whole or in part without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.

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