The initial 90-day open season of TransCanada Corp.'s Alaska pipeline project has closed and the company's TC Alaska unit and partner ExxonMobil Corp. are assessing and negotiating the issues associated with the bids received from potential shippers, the companies said.

TransCanada said it received bids from several companies interested in shipping gas on the massive pipeline project from the North Slope to Lower 48 markets. The companies' names or volumes of gas they are interested in shipping were not disclosed.

"There are many milestones to mark the progress of this project, and today's is a major one," said Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell. "The market has determined Alaska natural gas is worth pursuing. We have many more milestones to go, and plenty of commercial and regulatory hurdles to clear, but it is a positive sign that major players have placed bids for significant volumes of capacity on a pipeline to market."

TransCanada won the state concession to construct the line under the state's Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA) (see NGI, May 3a). A competing project, called Denali and sponsored by subsidiaries of BP plc and ConocoPhillips, recently began its 90-day open seasons in the United States and Canada (see NGI, June 14).

Parnell pointed out that the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. continues to work on a bullet line from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska to meet in-state natural gas needs (see NGI, May 3b).

"...[W]e have not put all of our eggs in one basket," Parnell said. "The Alaska Gasline Development Corp. will continue its work to prepare a project package for the bullet line. Letters of interest from buyers and sellers of gas and from pipeline construction companies will be solicited, as a financing plan is assembled during the next year."

The state of Alaska recently said it will cover a small portion of the cost of a survey to determine what route a gasline might take.

Alaska said it will employ laser profiling as part of a major aerial survey of proposed routes for potential pipelines that would carry North Slope gas supplies to in-state and/or Lower 48 markets.

The coordinator's office for AGIA is to provide most of the funding for the survey. Data obtained from the survey will be released to the public, said Tom Irwin, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"A portion of the cost for this survey is being provided by the Office of the Federal Coordinator (OFC)," Irwin said. "This contribution is an example of the cooperation taking place between state and federal agencies to bring North Slope natural gas to market."

The survey is estimated to cost $1.75 million. The state will fund $1.5 million with the remaining $250,000 coming from the OFC.

The survey will make use of a technology called light detection and ranging as well as the global positioning system. It will obtain precise elevations and locations of above-ground features. A request for proposals for the survey was issued July 26 by the DNR's Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys, which will oversee the work.

"This survey will significantly improve our geotechnical understanding of the route for an Alaska gas pipeline or other existing or proposed pipelines from the North Slope to either the Canadian border or Valdez," said Mark Myers, AGIA coordinator. "Making the survey results public means that Alaskans will be better informed during the regulatory and permitting phases of the Alaska gasline and other pipeline projects."

Identifying these potential obstacles and problems in the pre-design stage allows state and federal regulators to ensure that the pipeline is routed around serious perils or is designed to prevent damage, much as the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline was specially engineered where it crosses the Denali fault in the central Alaska Range, preventing spillage during the 2002 magnitude 7.9 earthquake, DNR said.

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