INGAA: Alaska Pipe Could Supply 10% of North American Demand

A long-line pipeline from the frontier region--Alaska's North Slope, Mackenzie Delta, Mackenzie Corridor and the Yukon--would provide access to the "quickest and newest supply source" of natural gas for the North American market, supplying more than 10% of the continent's gas demand by 2007, according to a new study commissioned by the INGAA Foundation.

The frontier region would add as much as 45 Tcf to North America's existing proven reserve base of 331 Tcf, and has the capability to produce at least 7 Bcf/d of North America's current gas demand of 74 Bcf/d, said the study, entitled "Future Natural Gas Supplies from the Alaskan and Canadian Frontier."

Building an Alaskan pipeline would provide access to a "secure and reliable gas resource for decades" for Canada and the United States, particularly the U.S. Northeast and West Coast markets where demand significantly outstrips the level of supplies that are sourced within the regions, according to the INGAA study, which was conducted by Houston-based Houston Energy Group and URS Corporation.

It estimates the Northeast currently consumes 9.9 Bcf/d more gas than than is generated within the region, and this likely will increase by an additional 4.3 Bcf/d by 2015. The Northeast's existing supply deficit is being made up by gas deliveries from Canada, the U.S. Midwest and other markets. The West Coast consumes 7.6 Bcf/d more gas than it produces at this time, and this is expected to grow by 3.2 Bcf/d within 15 years, the study noted. Gas deliveries from Canada, Texas and neighboring western states are helping to make up the West Coast's current supply shortfall.

Assuming gas prices stay in the $3-4 range, it predicts that as much as 6-13.5 Tcf of the expected demand growth in the Northeast, West and other regions of the U.S. could be met by incremental production from the Gulf of Mexico, Rocky Mountains, Western Canada Sedimentary Basin and other basins, and LNG facilities. But that still won't be enough, said Jim Harrington of Houston Energy, adding that supplies from the frontier region in Alaska and Canada will be needed as well.

The INGAA Foundation called for the study to shake up Alaska producers BP, ExxonMobil and Phillips, which "are sitting on [the gas] reserves" up there, said INGAA President Jerald Halvorsen during a press briefing last Thursday. The producers have got "inertia," he noted, adding that they're "big, arrogant and slow."

The study said "substantial new [pipeline] infrastructure" will have to be built to provide takeaway capacity from an Alaska pipeline to the U.S. Northeast and West markets. "We need the equivalent of four new Alliance Pipelines to the Northeast within 15 years." It estimated the Northeast will require a total of 6.9 Bcf/d of new pipe capacity by 2015, which could be met by a combination of new pipelines and expansions of existing systems, while the West is looking at a potential pipe capacity shortfall of 4.5 Bcf/d. The West will require both LNG projects and pipe expansions, said Harrington.

Overall, the report projected that more than 38,000 miles of new gas pipelines must be constructed over the next 15 years to meet demand growth. Expanding the existing pipeline infrastructure in North America will be crucial to the success of any pipeline from Alaska, Harrington noted.

The authors of the study, Harrington and Richard Bausell of URS Corporation, declined to say publicly whether they preferred a specific route for an Alaska pipeline. They noted that gas prices would have to be in the $3-4/MMBtu range for the project to be economically attractive. Anything below that price level would cut into producer netbacks, and anything above it would promote fuel switching among customers.

A long-line pipeline transporting frontier region gas supplies is feasible from a technical, environmental and regulatory standpoint, the study concluded. There are "no insurmountable obstacles," said Harrington.

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