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 &
Northeast Pipeline in Nova Scotia, where William (Billy) MacDonald
successfully appealed for an expensive modification. The board
ordered M&NE 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
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