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The proposed Pacific Trail Pipeline -- which would serve the planned Kitimat liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in British Columbia -- received a favorable environmental assessment from Canadian regulators under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the project's developer said. The Kitimat to Summit Lake Pipeline Looping (KSL) Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects as long as certain mitigation measures are taken, regulators said. The project received a BC Environmental Assessment Authority environmental certificate last year. The KSL Project entails the construction of approximately 463 kilometers (288 miles) of 36-inch diameter pipeline and compression facilities to enable Pacific Trail to transport up to 1 Bcf/d of gas from Summit Lake, which is east of the terminal site, to Kitimat LNG Inc.'s proposed LNG export terminal to be located at Bish Cove near Kitimat, BC. Pacific Trail is a partnership of Pacific Northern Gas Ltd. and Galveston LNG Inc., the parent company of Kitimat LNG Inc., and was formed to develop the KSL Project. Kitimat LNG has received provincial and federal permits and certificates for the terminal.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued favorable environmental assessments to CenterPoint Energy Gas Transmission Co. (CEGT) and Williams' Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line (Transco) to carry out mostly compression expansions of their pipeline systems. CEGT proposes to build a 15,000-hp compressor unit at its Westdale Compressor Station in Red River Parish, LA; another 15,000-hp compressor unit at its Vernon Compressor Station in Jackson Parish, LA, and associated facilities. The proposed Carthage-to-Perryville Project Phase IV is expected to raise the capacity of Line CP by 274,000 Dth/d to 1.87 Bcf/d to help meet producer and shipper demand for Haynesville Shale natural gas in northwestern Louisiana. CEGT owns and operates Line CP, currently a 1.55 Bcf/d pipeline that extends from Carthage, TX, to the Perryville Hub in Louisiana. The expansion, which is currently targeted for service in April 2010, would satisfy the forward-haul requirements of an agreement that CEGT inked earlier this month to transport Haynesville Shale gas for Chesapeake Energy Corp.(see NGI, March 9). Transco plans to build a new compressor at Station 85 and associated facilities at the interconnection of the Mobile Bay Lateral with Transco's mainline in Choctaw County, AL. The facilities would provide 253,500 Dth/d of incremental year-round firm transportation capacity from Transco's Compressor Station 85 to delivery points on the Mobile Bay Lateral, including an existing interconnection with Gulfstream Natural Gas System in Coden, AL, the pipeline said.

Xcel Energy Inc. said its retail gas utility rates in Colorado will fall 56% in April compared to that month last year. Charges will come in at about 32 cents/th, compared to 73 cents/th in April 2008. Xcel said natural gas bills in April should be 41-45% lower than the same month in 2008 with the lower bills being the result of a combination of expected warmer weather, lower customer use and the drop in wholesale gas commodity prices. Charges for residential and small business customers in Colorado will drop 31% to 32.2 cents/th next month compared to March rates of 46.8 cents/th. As a result, Xcel said, typical bills in April will be nearly $30 less than they are this month and $22.71 less than they were in April 2008. Xcel noted that the Nymex natural gas contract price for Henry Hub delivery has decreased 70 cents/dth since Feb. 10 this year. At the same time, the Colorado Interstate Gas/Rocky Mountain regional basis has been relatively stable, causing projected natural gas costs for April to be lower than March this year.

Adsorbed natural gas (ANG) technology developer Energtek Inc. said that with the new U.S. administration's backing it expects natural gas to play an increasing role in fueling transportation across the country. President Obama has called for a major reduction in dependency on foreign oil in his energy portion of the economic stimulus bill now being implemented. More than 60% of oil consumed in the United States is used by the transportation sector. Most of the vehicles currently on the road have internal combustion engines that can run on gasoline or natural gas, Energtek said. The company's ANG technology applies proprietary low-pressure storage technology to provide complete well-to-wheel pipeless natural gas supply solutions to industrial consumers and fleets of small vehicles. "[natural gas] is currently the only commercially viable motor fuel alternative to oil," said Energtek CEO Lev Zaidenberg. "NG is cheaper, cleaner and there are proven reserves to power the country's enormous automotive fleet for the foreseeable future. No other energy source, including renewable fuels, can be implemented as quickly and completely into the motor vehicle market as NG." The call for more natural gas use in the transportation sector echoes the sentiment of oil magnate T. Boone Pickens, who has been promoting the fuel switch since last summer in his Pickens Plan (see NGI, July 14, 2008).

Sempra Energy unit Sempra Pipelines & Storage launched an open season to test the market interest for up to 1 Bcf of firm natural gas capacity at its Bay Gas storage project near McIntosh, AL. Responses are due by Thursday (March 26), and service is to start April 1, Sempra said. It is seeking nonbinding bids for three years or longer. Earlier this year the Sempra storage unit offered up to 2.5 Bcf of firm storage service from a pipeline and facility expansion that would enable firm receipts and deliveries on the Gulfstream Natural Gas System at Coden, AL, using the Bay Storage facility to provide at least part of the capacity. Sempra obtained Bay Storage as part of a $510 million purchase of EnergySouth last year. The salt dome underground storage facility is located 40 miles north of Mobile and operated as the easternmost storage facility in the Gulf region serving the growing Florida market. Sempra said the pipeline receipt and delivery points for the Bay Gas Storage service includes those owned and operated by Florida Gas Transmission, Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line and Gulf South. The San Diego-based energy company unit, which has been expanding in the Gulf of Mexico region, characterized the Bay Gas facility as providing "high-deliverability storage services" that should be of interest to what it called "customers with a unique capability to respond to market peaking events." Customers with these services can store gas when prices are low due to domestic supply and liquefied natural gas imports and withdraw the gas when prices escalate, Sempra said. More information is available by contacting Russell Murrell at (281) 423-2789 or e-mail rmurrell@semprapipelines.com.

J.D. Power and Associates released its rankings for natural gas utilities' work satisfying business customers on a regional basis. Dividing the nation into four broad areas, Washington, DC's Washington Gas Light, PSNC Energy in North Carolina, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. and Southwest Gas Corp. topped the lists in the East, South, Midwest and West regions, respectively. For the fourth consecutive year J.D. Power measured business customer satisfaction with their gas utility in each region, with customer satisfaction being examined in six areas: billing and payment, corporate citizenship, price, communications, customer service and field service. Corporate citizenship proved to be an important factor, but an overall conclusion by J.D. Power was that from top to bottom, the results show that gas utilities had plenty of room to improve in the future. No scores were in the 70th percentile. Among the four top regional gas utilities, Las Vegas, NV-based Southwest Gas scored highest (687 on a 1,000-point scale), MidAmerican was next (662), PSNC was third (657) and Washington Gas Light was fourth (647).

Massachusetts customers of National Grid could be in for a "significant rate reduction" from a rate filing the company made with the state's Department of Public Utilities in which it proposes to reduce gas costs by about 65% compared to 2008. It also proposes cutting electricity rates to 2006 levels. If approved, the new rates would take effect May 1 and continue through October. The lower rates reflect lower market prices for natural gas and oil. National Grid proposes to lower the price of natural gas to 51 cents/therm compared to $1.49/therm during the same period last year -- a 65.7% reduction. This translates into savings of nearly $50 per month for the typical residential customer and marks the lowest rate customers have paid for gas since 2002, the company said.

As natural gas values continue to hover below six-year lows, Massachusetts-based investor-owned electric and gas utility NSTAR informed its natural gas customers this week that they likely will be seeing a 70% decrease in prices starting in May. The company, which transmits and delivers electricity and natural gas to 1.4 million customers in eastern and central Massachusetts, has submitted a proposed summer rate of 38 cents/therm, down from last summer's average cost of $1.30/therm. If approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, the price cut will save the average NSTAR gas heating customer about $35 a month. "The continued decline of natural gas prices on the futures market will translate into big monthly savings for our customers this summer," said NSTAR CEO Tom May. "In this economy, every opportunity to save money helps and we're pleased to pass on these lower costs at a time when everyone can use a little extra." If the proposed cost of gas is approved, the average NSTAR gas heating customer using 38 therms a month between May and October will pay approximately $15 a month, down from $50 a month last summer. The average NSTAR gas nonheating customer using 12 therms of gas a month will pay about $5 a month, down from $16. The proposed summer rate is also a 69% decrease from the current winter rate of $1.24/therm.

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